Divorce is a growing phenomenon in all cultures; however customs and laws are divided between those that favour women and those that expressly do not. Through a qualitative research project using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA), this paper highlights the plight of the divorced Muslim woman based on the hypothesis that some cultures handle divorce better than others. A comprehensive literature review profiles divorce in other cultures which also oppress women in divorce situations. Resulting themes presented in interview results and the discussion which follow highlight the desperation felt by Muslim women seeking divorce and serve to validate the hypothesis.
With the divorce rate in the United States at 49.5 percent, followed closely by the United Kingdom at 30.8 percent (People statistics 2004) the ease of exiting a marriage for fault or no-fault is rapidly becoming a cultural phenomenon. Those believing in a more Western ideology and approach to their relationships tend to view things more legalistically. However, for many cultural groups immigrating to these countries, the cultural influence of their country of origin and their religion create a unique situation; do individuals abandon their culture or origin and modernize or do they remain traditional ?
Stodolska and Livengood (2006, p. 293) state religion defines an individual’s cultural and social life. This is especially true in the treatment of women from many cultures. In particular, the Muslim religion treats women with significantly less rights in many social and legal issues, such as divorce. Stodolska and Livengood (2006, p. 293) tell us that women have severe restrictions placed upon them on issues ranging from modesty in dress, everyday behaviour and language to foods they can consume, dating and use of alcohol.
Despite differences in family organization patterns that are more liberal in the West, such as in the United States or Britain, research has documented that the Muslim community maintains the “collectivist and family-centred relationships over successive generations” (Abu-Laban & Abu-Laban, 1999 as cited by Stodolska & Livengood 2006, p. 296).
This paper will examine the effect of the Muslim culture on divorce by studying the impact of the Muslim culture on seven divorced women who immigrated to Britain. Given the hypothesis that some countries handle divorce better than others, we seek to examine the role of culture on the decisions these women made, the support they received or did not receive from family and the psychological impact to themselves and their children that their culturally determined matrimonial course had upon them.
Following a series of operational definitions and exclusions, this paper will present a comprehensive literature review. The methodology, results and a discussion of the research project will also be presented with an emphasis on the phenomenological basis of the study.
In order to maintain a constant level of understanding of divorce, culture, enculturation and the many issues facing women, operational definitions are provided.
While this paper will examine the role of cultural attitudes towards women and gender-based matrimonial customs, focusing on divorce, there are several topics explicitly excluded. Issues related to psychological repercussions children experience due to divorce are considered beyond the scope of this paper. Additionally, issues relating to the male experience upon immigrating to a Western/more liberal country are considered beyond the scope of this paper as are issues dealing specifically with women’s recovery from divorce.
The choice of methodology for this project was two-fold based on design and participant selection. This section of the paper will highlight the choice of design, participants, materials and the procedure used in the study.
This project was designed using a qualitative approach employing Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) which seeks to understand living experiences and the meaning that individuals place on those experiences (What is IPA? 2007). It is important to note that IPA does not test a hypothesis but relies on participants being experts in their field (Flowers 2007). In accordance with IPA guidelines (What is IPA? 2007), research for this study was conducted using semi-structured interviews which were taped, transcribed and “subjected to detailed qualitative analysis” in order to elicit themes, which also lends itself to hermeneutics . Also used were Weed’s (2005) suggestions for the interpretive synthesis interview data.
Inclusion criteria for participants included several requirements: 1) each woman had to be Muslim; 2) each woman had to be first generation immigrants; 3) each woman had to be divorced. As a result, participants were seven divorced females between the ages of 29 and 60 year of age. Each woman was of Muslim religious affiliation, from an Asian country other than Britain who then immigrated to Britain while maintaining their Muslim affiliation, culture and heritage but who all decided that divorce was the only option for them in relation to their marital relationship.
Materials used for the research study included a printed handout of the questions for the researcher to assure the same questions were asked in the same order and in the same fashion to each participant to prevent researcher bias. Similarly, a tape recorder was used for each interview.
Following the initial selection of participants, appointments for face-to-face interviewers were setup between the researcher and each participant. Each participant was informed of the purpose of the research study and participant permission was obtained prior to each interview for taping. Interviews were subsequent transcribed and in all cases transcribed into English from the native language used. Following the transcription, in accordance with IPA methodology, exploratory codes and themes were identified. Each participant was assured anonymity would be maintained.
Following the IPA design schema, participants engaged in a 30-minute interview consisting of eight open-ended questions.
The design varied slightly from classic IPA structure. According to Finlay (n.d.) researchers are to ask the most salient, open-ended question relating to the topic first. In this case background information was obtained before delving into the issue of divorce. It was believed that, given the sensitive, emotional and highly personal nature of the subject matter and the lack of this researcher’s prior personal knowledge or experience with each participant, several background questions might benefit the participants by providing an opportunity to ease into the topic.
Interviews were conducted in a friendly home environment.
A comprehensive literature review was conducted on the cultural effects on women and divorce with a primary focus on those cultures that are contrary to the Western philosophy of full rights under the law and society for women. This section highlights both the methodology used to carry out the literature review and the resulting epistemology .
Procedures/methodology for literature review
A search of the literature was conducted in two steps. Initially, a search of the Highbeam and Infotrac online article databases was conducted to identify those articles of interest dealing with cultural effects on women and divorce. Search strings used include: “women, divorce, culture,” “culture, divorce, women,” “culture divorce,” “divorce, women,” and once the interviews were conducted, the search string “divorce, Muslim” was used. From the hits obtained, abstracts were reviewed to assess appropriateness. Inclusion criteria included articles that were written in English, articles that were not greater than fifteen years old, articles that dealt with divorce or marriage customs in light of a specific cultural view on women, appeared in pear-reviewed journals. From a review of the abstracts, relevant peer-reviewed journal articles that were felt to contribute to the comprehensive nature of the literature review were selected and articles themselves were retrieved for review and inclusion.
Other cultures experience divorce and matrimonial issues differently and many are more accepting of the more modern female role in society. However, this can be viewed in both context of religion and society during the modernization of the country itself. For example, Leneman (1996) discusses divorce in eighteenth and early-nineteenth century Scotland. Guildford (1998) discusses divorce in Canada in the early 1900s and Ensor (2003) discusses marriage and divorce in the United States among the Omaha Indian tribe during the late 1800s. Other researchers have studied more current matrimonial and divorce in other cultures including Japan, China, Pakistan and other countries which have a heavy Muslim influence and/or majority population.
Leneman (1996, p. 465) looked to the different religious and legal means for divorce in early Scotland. Given Scotland’s English history, it is important to note at the onset that English law at the time only allowed divorce through a private act of Parliament (Leneman 1996, p.465). Scotland had Protestant and Catholic religious constraints. The Protestant ethic, adopted by most of the modernized countries, stressed the biblical and Calvinistic view “A man many hold the primacy in other things, but in bed he and his wife are equal” (Calvin cited in Leneman 1996, p.465). Especially for adultery, Scottish divorce equated the divorce to spousal death (Leneman 1996, p. 465). While Wales was considered English, Scotland retained their Protestant divorce ethics, however, Leneman (1996, p. 466) states that despite the Protestant divorce mentality, the rate of divorce in Scotland remained low. Protestant ideology provided for a shift in morals allowing for separation and divorce as acceptable solutions for marital strife (Leneman 1996, p. 466). In one Scottish burgh, Neuchatel, women were found to have initiated the majority of divorce proceedings in the 1700s, citing adultery, desertion, cruelty and incompatibility (Leneman, 1996, p. 469). Similar to other areas, and perhaps maternal instinct rather than implicitly cultural, children were seen as an overriding reason to stay married (Leneman, 1996, p. 469). Ultimately, adultery was the most frequently cited cause of divorce, but Leneman (1996, p. 475) states this might have something to do with the times and frequent wars leading men away from their homes and women without marital companionship.
Guildford (1998) reviewed current literature on divorce in Canada during the early 1900s as modernization took place during the country’s industrial revolution. This was also strongly impacted by the influx of immigrants from around the world, similar to that which the United States was experiencing at the time. Guildford (1998) states that Canadian men and women in the early 1900s commonly utilized the law as well as informal arrangements to end marriages and frequently begin new relationships. Interestingly, Guildford (1998) found that professional women still retained a subordinate status to both their male professional peers and other males and were forced to place their careers in subordinate positions to the needs of their family and childrearing. Guildford comments, however, on the differing regional differences relative to marriage and divorce customs during the time, and states that rural Ontario was a good example of the clash between rural and urban areas that can demonstrate the regional diversity experienced by a single country. Guildford (1998) believes that regional diversity can significantly skew the results of a nationalistic view; primarily of importance to Canada given the French and English Canadian women’s history.
Ensor (2003, p. 3) states that in the Omaha tribe, women were responsible for activities consistent with cultivating, whether that be childbearing and rearing, education, gardening, making clothes, collecting firewood or cooking. Fathers arranged marriages for their children that usually involved parental sanctions for both parties (Ensor 2003, p. 3). In the Omaha tradition, marriages were more than a joining of individuals; they were seen as a linking of two groups of people . Of interest is the nature of divorce, such that children belong to the husband’s family following a patriarchal line which states that children stay with the father or father’s clan whether a mother remains with them or not following divorce (Ensor 2003, p.11). This was also the custom in the case of widowhood (Ensor 2003, p. 11). Even if a divorced woman remarried, her children from a first marriage stayed with their biological father (Ensor 2003, p. 12). Ensor (2003, p. 12) cites the situation where a remarried mother brought her new husband to live with her prior husband and children just to be near them and maintain her maternal influence on her children.
Ghosheh and Czejdo (1993, p. 36) discuss marriage and divorce in Pakistan, where, in the male dominated society, women must adhere to social norms despite their level of education and/or professional status. Arranged marriages are still considered the normal way of marrying in Pakistan, including looking favourably on marriages between first cousins (Ghosheh and Czejdo 1993, p. 37). Ghosheh and Czejdo (1993, p. 36) state that the Pakistani’s take special pride in their arranged marriages and the low divorce rates they experience, commenting that the most frequent problem married couples experience is familial interference in their lives. Marriage in Pakistan is not seen as a romantic joining of two souls, it is considered a “partnership and a duty” (Ghosheh & Czejdo 1993, p. 36). Those Pakistani’s who divorce are harshly stigmatized and the families of each marital partner, particularly the woman, are stigmatized as well; therefore families often intervene when there is marital discord and strongly urge women to be tolerant of their husbands (Ghosheh & Czejdo 1993, p. 36).
Modo (2002, p. 378) discusses the role of the Basotho culture on marriage and divorce emphasizing the role of the patriarchal lineage as an act of incorporation of the bride’s genetics into the husband’s line. Women are considered married to the husband’s lineage and household rather than to the individual man she legally married (Modo 2002, p. 380). Divorce is seriously frowned upon and tribal chiefs “will use all their influence to bring the parties together” (Modo 2002, p. 380). Despite the intensity of problems, lineage members will intervene and settle problems within a marriage in order to keep the lineage and the women’s role in it secure (Modo 2002, p. 382). Of interest, however, are the wife’s rights to live in her marital home even if her x-husband takes another wife; they have to build a new home and reside elsewhere (Modo 2002, p. 380). Unfortunately, the role of women is still subservient to the male and problems that women endure are frequently “swept under the rug” (Modo 2002, p. 381). For example, Modo (2002, p. 382) comments adultery is not a cause for divorce unless it is considered “frequent and scandalous.”
Mayer and Zianian (2002, p. 297) comment on the increased rate of suicide in relation to the increase in the divorce rate in India, which is in contrast to traditional suicide rates being higher among non-married individuals. Researchers predicted that suicide rates for divorced females would be higher than for divorced men due to cultural stigmas attached to divorce for women (Mayer & Zianian 2002, p. 298). Researchers reviewed official suicide records from the India National Crime Records Bureau who began to classify victims by marital status in 1995 (Mayer & Zianian 2002, p. 299). Research determined that suicide for divorced males was higher than for females in all marital categories other than single (Mayer and Zianian 2002, p. 299). Among divorced suicides however, divorced females have a higher suicide rate than married women and postulate the rate is influenced by the effects of modernization (Mayer & Zianian 2002, p. 299). Researchers noted that for both males and females, the rate of suicide was higher among divorced or separated individuals compared to those who are engaged or legally married Mayer & Zianian 2002, p. 301). Of special interest to the researchers was the lower incidence of suicide among widowed females despite their stigmatized and lower status among the Indian population (Mayer & Zianian 2002, p. 302). Widows are not free to remarry, are considered “messengers of bad luck,” are often unable to find work due to their widowed status and suffer tremendous psychological hardships as a consequence (Mayer & Zianian 2002, p. 302). India is still a patriarchal society where arranged marriages are the rule rather than exception; considerable family influence is seen when divorce is a likelihood (Mayer & Zianian 2002, p. 302). Statistically, divorced men in India are 20 times more likely to commit suicide than their married peers whereas females are 11 times more likely to commit suicide as a divorced woman compared to married females (Mayer & Zianian 2002, p. 302-303). This is particularly interesting when one finds the freedom divorced men have to remarry, have greater employment opportunities than divorced females and greater rights for property accumulation, including a claim for financial support from their children as they age (Mayer & Zianian 2002, p. 302).
In Africa, Kevane (2002 p. 28) states that marriage is about transferring rights to her husband rather than a “voluntary entry into contract to create a household” and a ceasing of their own activities. In an editorial in Sister Namibia magazine (Landmark judgment for women’s property rights in Zambia 2006, p. 39), it was stated that in a customary marriage that is culturally based rather than legally based, women are not in a position to demand anything - property or support and in fact, may have things taken away from them in the divorce process. In a recent 2006 judgment, however, a magistrate in Zambia ruled in favour of a property settlement for the wife, stating “the parties should be put in equal position to avoid any one of them falling into destitution” (Chanda cited by Landmark judgment for women’s property rights in Zambia 2006, p. 39).
Bullough and Ruan (1994, p. 384) studied the marital and divorce rights of contemporary China following the marriage law enacted on April 13, 1950 which gave equal rights to both males and females and outlawed bigamy, child betrothals, dowries and emphasized freedom of choice. They found that although the law was passed legislatively, implementing it into the Chinese culture was a different situation and met with resistance from traditional Chinese ideology (Bullough & Ruan 1994, p. 385). In China, over 70 percent of divorces are brought to the divorce magistrate , yet the divorce rate in China is still only 10 percent (World Journal March 27, 1990 cited by Bullough & Ruan, 1994, p. 385). Although the western ideology for divorce has been enacted in China, the more traditional cultural stigmas still exist, for example, Bullough & Ruan (1994, p. 386) cite the story of a man separated from his wife for 18 years and still claims himself to be married for political reasons as a divorce would have hurt both of their careers.
Divorce in Hong Kong was studied by Kung et al. (2004, p. 33) who state that divorce is rare in Hong Kong due to cultural reasons, although they stated that Hong Kong is a place where modernization and tradition meet. They found women are more financially disadvantaged after divorce and this situation is often exacerbated by being the custodial parent (Kung et al. 2004, p. 34). According to researchers (Kung et al. 2004, p. 34) in Chinese tradition, marriage is not about joining two people in love, it is joining two families; family has a tremendous amount of influence in the country and state. In ancient China, there was no word for divorce; instead the phrase “ousting the wife” was used (Kung et al. 2004, p. 35) which reinforces the male dominant role in society. Although Hong Kong is modernizing, divorced females still carry a stigma and have more to lose than a man; in fact, researchers found that 35% of men questioned would not marry a divorced woman (Kung et al. 2004, p. 37). Still in China, families lose face when a daughter divorces and divorced women are often asked by immediate family members to hide the fact they are divorced (Kung et al. 2004, p. 40). One mother threatened to commit suicide if her daughter divorced (Kung et al. 2004, p. 41).
In other cultures, male dominance is so extreme, as in Sri Lanka, that medical students are reported to justify spousal abuse and wife beating, believing a woman benefits from the beating and that they actually brought the beating on themselves (Haj-Yahia & de Zoysa 2007, p. 26). Researchers also found that the same medical students were opposed to divorce as a solution to domestic violence and are similarly opposed to punishing a husband for the abuse inflicted (Haj-Yahia & De Zoysa 2007, p. 26).
According to Simpson (1997, p. 731), divorce in contemporary Britain is a process of reallocating finances, emotions, people and other resources. In contemporary Britain, marriage is looked upon as an act sanctioned by law and therefore is considered reversible (Simpson 1997, p. 733). Britain, therefore, takes a legalistic view of divorce and emphasizes typical Western concepts, such as the Child Support Act of 1991 to preserve the well-being of the child as well as to drive home the notion that parenting is a life-long activity (Simpson 1997. P. 732).
Jones et al. (1994, p. 395) discussed the rate of divorce in West Java, which had the highest divorce rate in the world during the 1950s and 1960s. Although the country went through a radical change over the last five decades towards modernization and education, the divorce rate continued to decline from the national high; by the mid 1980s the West Java divorce rate had declined to only 20 percent of the divorce rate in the United States (Jones et al. 1994, p. 396). While Java is predominantly Muslim, where a man can easily divorce his wife but not so a wife divorcing her husband, recent requirements include counselling for the couple prior to officially registering a divorce. Although a wife cannot formally request a divorce in West Java, per the Muslim culture, Jones et al. (1994, p. 397) state that women have ways of persuading their husbands, such as tricking their husbands into pronouncing the talak three times. Although Muslim, Jones et al. (1994, p. 397) relate that there is no stigma attached to divorce; the key objective for families was to marry their daughters off early to prevent the familial disgrace. If a young bride did not like her husband in the familial arranged marriage, she could refuse to consummate the marriage and this would also lead to divorce. Contrary to the thoughts that modernization and education would lead to more divorce, Jones et al. demonstrated that more divorces were cited among rural rather than urban couples. These changes have led, however, to an increased age for women in marriage and the refusal of young girls to marry chosen husbands that they do not wish to marry (Jones et al. 1994, p. 399).
The appendix provides complete interview transcripts along with explanatory codes and themes, consistent with IPA format (Weed 2005, Finlay n.d.; and What is IPA? 2007). Results evidenced five common themes with respect to the effect of Muslim culture on the psychological effects of women: depression and suicide attempts, delaying the decision until she felt a sense of desperation, low-self esteem, family withdrawal/family shame and spousal abuse/domestic violence.
Depression and suicide attempts were the first theme identified among the majority of the interviews. Participants stressed that depression became a constant psychological companion, however, in addition to the generalized depression they felt at their own unhappiness, their potential familial isolation, shame and guilt, suicide for many was the only way out.
Participant One stated: “I tried to suicide twice” (transcript lines 34-35). Similarly, participant three stated: “I did not tell my family that my husband had another wife and children. I did not tell them that he is abusing me physically until I took overdose and went hospital” (transcript lines 155-160).
Participant four stated: “I was feeling very lonely, down, and hopeless I got depressed and did not know what to do” (Appendix, transcript lines 470-473). Participant five commented: “Even then I became very depressed but I did not see the support that I want from him as a husband not because he did not want but I think because he did not know how to give me the emotional support that I needed at the time” (Appendix, transcript lines 670-677).
Divorce for many women is the final step when their own situation is desperate, yet many delay the decision until their own situation is intolerable. Participant two stated: “I have stayed with him for 5 years then I became sure that he is not the right one for me” (Appendix, transcript lines 186-189). Participant three stated: “I took my decision after 28 years of my marriage; it just took me to long to decide to leave” (Appendix, transcript lines 329-332). Participant four commented: “It took me more than five years to decided to get divorce and to be sure that is the right decision for me. For the last five years I have been thinking about it very seriously and I tried my best not to go for divorce but I did feel is not fare on me to live with some one that I do not want or love” (Appendix, transcript lines 500-509). Participant five stated: “It took me about 16 years to make my decision of divorce although I lived in this country for that long but still the way I brought up like having too much respect for others and not to be myself made me freeze and not to do anything about it I was thinking of others first rather than thinking of myself” (Appendix, transcript lines 581-591). Participant six commented: “I do not know it took me ages, abut 8 to 9 years” (Appendix, transcript lines 833-834).
Only participant seven acted with speed following much research and contemplation, taking only six months; stating: “When I left my daughter was 2.5 years old, after weeks of reading about the effects of divorce on children I came to the conclusion that if I leave when she’s under 3 years of age it will have minimal emotional effect on her” (Appendix, transcript lines 1034-1041).
For women living in a male dominant culture, their subordinate role and position in society frequently creates a sense of low self-esteem. With the exception of participant seven who had no reported self-esteem problems, and had the most professional position in the job market as an IT consultant whereas the others were either in low-paying jobs or housewives, the situations participants one through six presented evidenced low-self esteem. Participant one stated: “I am not his partner but I was like a robot working hard in the house looking after him and my children” (Appendix, transcript lines 18-22). Participant two stated “I was not very confident of myself” (Appendix, transcript lines 171-172). Participant three stated: “he never used to pay any attention to what I was telling him the other reason for to think about divorce was he used to cheat me with my friend and other family friends. He even used try for my best friend as well and when they used to come to tell me about him I used to feel very bad of him and myself” (Appendix, transcript lines 286-296). Participant four stated she had tried to improve herself but eventually gave up because coping with her husband was not worth is: “I tried to go out and do some study but he was always complaining about it, most of the time I used to give up the study because he was just moaning bout it” (Appendix, transcript lines 491-496). Participant five commented: “My family knew that he is not the right person for me but I never complained about him although I was feeling I am missing a lot in my life” (Appendix, transcript lines 643-648) and “…but still the way I brought up like having too much respect for others and not to be myself made me freeze and not to do anything about it I was thinking of others first rather than thinking of myself” (Appendix, transcript lines 685-687). Participant six mentioned subordinating her own feelings on marrying someone she did not care for “I said no in the beginning but I realized that my dad was very upset so I had to say yes” (Appendix, transcript lines 797-801) and “My culture have no respect for human specially women and all they think about is what other are saying, make you feel shame of yourself for things which are totally right for anyone to do, and try to make it very hard for you and themselves under name of religion and culture. I came to the point that if I do not take myself out of this no one else” (Appendix, transcript lines 839-850).
Issues relating to family shame, threat of familial isolation and withdrawal of support are paramount. Participant one stated: “The mother was interfering a lot in our life” (Appendix, transcript lines 33-34) and “I had no support or so ever from my family they all encouraged me to accept every thing and stay with him. Divorce for them it is a big shame that I should not think of it regardless the reasons behind it” (Appendix, transcript lines 77-84). Participant three stated: “…even my mum when I started to tell what feel, she was upset, showed disappointment, and was angry at me. When my brothers knew about them they started to take my husband side and I was isolated. The all family was against the idea Even my very close auntie…” (Appendix, transcript lines 319-328) and “each time I was deciding to divorce some one in our family was intervening and make me give up. My family were against the idea of divorce and they were trying hard to stop me from getting divorce. My older brother started to stop talking to me when I talked to him about divorce and my other brother was very angry and disappointed of me. Even my mother was upset specially my other sister was divorced too but she got married again soon after her divorce. They all concerned divorce will bring shame to the family” (Appendix, transcript lines 338-356). Participant four stated: “I had no support from my family. They all encouraged me to stay with my husband and accused me being wrong with no patient” (Appendix, transcript lines 528-532). Participant five commented: “My mum was against the idea of divorce however she was divorced herself. She was always telling me if you go for the divorce no one from our family will talk to you or have contact with you” (Appendix, transcript lines 701-707). Participant six stated: “he tried to involve our family but it was too late for me even to listen to them. What I really did not like about my family’s attitude was they pushed my to do things that were against their ways, which probably I would not do if I had a happy marriage life” (Appendix, transcript lines 864-872). Even participant seven, who states she has a very open-minded family for Iraqi Muslims, stated: “Within the Iraqi culture I can classify my family as being the most open minded and modern but there was still resistance from most of the family when I took the decision. They thought I didn’t have enough reason to go ahead with my decision and I could’ve worked things out” (Appendix, transcript lines 997-1006).
Participant two was the exception having family support rather than withdrawal of familial affection and support.
Not all participants evidenced spousal abuse, but the theme presented with enough frequency that it was considered a major theme in how women are treated and in divorce situations. Participant one stated: “When I used to ask him to get our money back he used to abuse me verbally and stared to beat me up” (Appendix, transcript lines 28-31) and “As soon as I went back he started to beat me up again this time he managed to break my back” (Appendix, transcript lines 64-67). Participant two commented: “I did not tell them that he is abusing me physically until I took overdose and went hospital” (Appendix, transcript lines 157-160) and “When the house was finished he started to be aggressive to me again” (Appendix, transcript lines 182-184)
While participant three did not suffer direct physical or verbal abuse, she suffered psychological abuse due to her husband’s gambling and cheating on her. Similarly participant four suffered psychological abuse.
According to Hendrix and Pearson (1995, p. 227), marital stability is dependent upon both parties seeking to stay together. The results presented in the previous chapter evidence a desire to separate. Results presented suggest that divorce among Muslim immigrants to Britain is affected by a number of factors indigenous to the Muslim culture.
Sense of isolation is common, and supported by researchers for other areas of the world where male dominance and female stigmas are the result of family involvement in marital affairs (Kung et al. 2004, p. 41). Kung et al. (2004, p 42) discuss the common feelings among women that they are unwelcome due to their divorced status. Kung et al. (2004, p. 43) states that many women themselves find ways to withdraw from society following their divorce or hide their situation from co-workers in order to maintain their job security.
Some of the common reasons, also evidenced by all participants in the transcripts (see Appendix) are highlighted below, including the effects of religion on divorce, culture and divorce, economic reasons and the role of women in society. All of these have profound psychological affects.
Greenstein and Davis (2006, p. 256) state that religion is one mechanism that has controlled access to divorce, such as the Roman Catholic church banning divorce whereas the Muslim culture has allowed divorce, but typically only to males. Protestant religious cultures are considered less restrictive (Greenstein and Davis, 2006, p. 256) and as such have higher divorce rates. Stiles (2003, p. 275) emphasizes the role that God plays in knowing the intent of a man relative to divorce, stating that the matter is ultimately between the husband and God, that society has no way to enforce what is between a husband and God.
It is interesting to note that Stiles (2005, p. 585) tells us that in a divorce situation, men are more likely to seek Muslim laws initially whereas woman are more likely to seek other means of dissolution before seeking Muslim law.
According to Yilmaz (2002, p. 343), although Muslim law is not the official law of Britain, it exists as superior in the mind of the British Muslim community and is the unofficial law that still is applied to marriages and divorces as well as other family issues. Yilmaz (2002, p. 245) comments that minority cultures in Britain have developed various culturally-oriented strategies instead of assimilating into society such that they have “reordered life on their own terms.” Cohen and Savaya (2003, p. 283) tell us that reasons for divorce generally have to do with the culture in which the couple is living. This is not necessarily the case as presented by the participants. While living in Britain they were still under their Muslim cultural dictates in reference to lifestyle.
Broadbent (2004) states that post-divorce financial reasons (as also cited by all participants) generally prove disadvantageous to females and are often cited as reasons for delaying divorce, especially since women subsequent to a divorce are limited to part-time, low paying jobs.
The predominant theme is that of women’s role in society. For example, in Indian and American societies, gender stratification is common where women have less “economic, political and social power than men” (Amato 1994, p. 208). Hendrix and Pearson (1994, p. 227) tell us that because a culture does not allow a woman to divorce her husband, many women will perform their traditional responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning or childcare in a sub-optimal manner so as to coerce her husband into seeking a divorce.
While childcare and the impact of having children was a primary concern for each of the participants relative to their decision to divorce, most were more concerned for the emotional and psychological health of their children, such as participant seven who researched the level of emotional damage to her child if she divorced after the child was three years old. Other participants stated their children deserved a health environment or one in which love was given freely to all rather than feeling frightened and isolated.
The psychological impact of divorce to any female is complex. A myriad of feelings and issues are common, including a sense of mixed emotions of joy and grief. In the Muslim culture, divorce is even more stressful. The Muslim culture is family based, however, in a divorce situation, that focal element - family, is often seen as both a threat to self-esteem and simultaneously a woman fears familial withdrawal.
Throughout the divorce process, when fundamental religious values are stressed which, in the Muslim culture, are more important regarding marriage and divorce than the legalistic applications of legislative law, the female is faced with a sense of powerlessness and is fronted with shame and disrespect when, as in the case of most participants, she has done nothing wrong but is the victim and is treated as the criminal.
With a feeling of powerlessness, the female is left to cope with depression, despair and grief at a loss of her relationship and a loss of self, the self she was before the marriage and divorce, before familial obligations and before being beaten down by her own culture.
This study has provided evidence to the ways that Muslim females are affected by divorce and shown the effect to which familial withdrawal, domestic abuse; cultural isolation, guilt and shame can lead to a variety of psychological repercussions including depression, and low self-esteem. A review of the current literature provided a insight into the cultural views on divorce present in other societies, religions and cultures. Combined with the transcripts and IPA analysis, the hypothesis is clearly demonstrated: some cultures deal with and accept divorce more readily than others.
This study has several limitations. First, the number of participants was appropriate for an IPA study, however, it is not enough from which to generalize findings to the population at large. Second, the original transcripts were translated and there is only the assumption that the translation service used accurately translated each interview.
Recommendations for future study include a larger population of participants, written questionnaires rather than face-to-face taped interviews and a potential comparison of Muslim divorces in a predominantly Muslim country, such as Iraq with Muslims who have immigrated to Britain, as in this case, or with Muslims who have immigrated to Russia or the United States, where the divorce culture and rates are considered high.
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