Women’s Right to Divorce and Nikkah Nama in Pakistan

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Human rights are rights to which everyone is entitled solely regardless of whom they are or where they live. Individual rights are extremely important in today’s world. The concept of respect for the individual is the basis of human rights. The main principal is that every individual is a moral and reasonable being who deserves integrity. If we talk about women and their rights, they constitute around 49.6 percent of the entire world population yet they are restricted to the least powerful segments of the societies. In many cases they’re denied even their basic rights of freedom, education, employment, health care, property, marriage as well as control on their own body and life.

Women were always excluded when it came to having a part in any kind of economic contribution or decision making spheres of the society. Due to their predetermined attributes and duties by the male figures of the society, they were restricted to the domestic responsibilities. Since majority of the societies have been patriarchal, women have been subject to human rights violation more than men.

Similarly, Pakistan has had its share of women rights issues since Independence, many human rights are denied because of the individuals constructing certain social realities instead of accepting existing ones. However, one of the major rights that are violated is “Women’s Right to Divorce” which is cancelled while signing the Nikkah Nama (Agreement or Written Contract). The Nikkah Nama is a written contract that must be signed by two Muslim couples moving into a civil union (marriage) in order to legalize their marriage.

Nikkah Nama includes many clauses and majority of the document, throughout Clause 1 to 12, is self-explanatory; it’s comparable to filling out a simple document or form. You are supposed to write down basic information such as the parties’ and lawyers’ names, their ages, as well as addresses and much more. Clause 13 to 16 is all questions concerning ‘Mehr’, that is a gift offered by husbands at the time of marriage as a sign of gratitude to the wife and which serves as financial security for women at the time of divorce. The remaining clauses of the Nikkah Nama are often overlooked or sometimes misunderstood. Clauses 18-19 deal with the right to divorce, firstly which inquires whether the husband wishes to grant the right to divorce to his spouse, and the second of which questions whether the husband’s right to divorce has been limited in either way.

The practice of cancelling the woman’s given right to divorce before presenting the Nikkah-Nama for signatures has become common in Pakistan. In most cases, the Qazi or other family members who are conducting the marriage will strike up these clauses. Fortunately, this is discouraged and results to violation of women’s rights.  The Pakistan’s law permits a woman to exercise the right to divorce in opposition to filing Khula in the Family Courts of Law; however the Nikkah Nama is drafted in advance to negate the intent of the legislation as a normal practice.

It has been a socially constructed belief that women are emotionally weak and they are illogical that is why women are not capable of exercising this right. Therefore, it has become a socially constructed really that due to women being irrational and weak they will misuse this right and make rash decisions. And also those women are supposed to endure hardship and difficulties in marriage for the sake family’s dignity and honor. Moreover, people simply have a common viewpoint that women’s right to divorce is unnecessary, because a woman still keeps her right to a Khula if things go awful.

While all this, people forget that they are violating Human rights. In Universal Human Rights Declaration it is already stated in article 3 that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person”. Women’s right to divorce should be given to women and secure their legal right because it’s their basic right to have security and liberty. Moreover, according to article 8 “Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law”. Women’s right to divorce is the right given to women by law and just because it has become common practice it is deleted or struck up from the Nikkah Nama before the women’s signatures. And resulting to violation of human rights but it is justified and no one talks about it because it has become a common practice in the society now.

According to Pakistan’s divorce laws, a woman has a delegated right to divorce, and therefore her right must not be cancelled out or discarded without her permission in the Nikkah Nama before obtaining her signature. It is also suggested that women read and understand all the clauses prior to signing the written document which is the Nikkah Nama to secure their legal rights beforehand, as it secures one of the most important rights of a marriage. 

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Nismah Naveed Bhatti
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