Forced marriage isn’t always about force, fraud, coercion, or incapacity in the inducement to marry.  Even when a marriage begins with a happy couple and mutually consensual nuptials, lack of access to divorce can force an unwilling wife to remain in a violent, abusive, or unhappy union.  That’s why GJI was pleased to learn that Palestinian religious authorities have announced sweeping divorce law reforms that will make it easier for a Muslim woman to end her marriage.  According to The Associated Press:

Under Palestinian law, women cannot unilaterally demand a divorce. That is still the privilege of men, who can divorce their wives without recourse to a court… Divorce for [Palestinian] Muslims is handled at Islamic family law courts where clerics serve as judges, since personal status issues are governed by Shariah law… For decades, Palestinian women seeking to divorce their husbands [have] risked years of miserable, expensive litigation or lengthy domestic battles as they begged their spouses for permission to leave.

If a wife is able to produce tangible evidence of mistreatment by her husband, she might succeed in securing a divorce, but many common forms of domestic violence, such as rape, sexual assault, threats and psychological abuse, can be virtually impossible to prove.  Attorney Fatima al-Muaqat, an expert on Palestinian divorce law, told AP that the divorce process for Muslim Palestinian women can take as long as 10 years in some cases.  AP predicts the Shariah law reforms will ease the disparate burden on women:

The changes mean women no longer have to prove ill treatment. The Islamic judges who decide divorce cases for Palestinian Muslims will have the power to decide, without evidence, that her marriage is harmful for them…and the divorce must be completed within three months… “In Islamic law, the relation between spouses should be based on tenderness, love and understanding,” said Sheik Yousef al-Dais, head of the Islamic courts in the Palestinian Authority, as he announced the changes Thursday. “If there’s hatred between them, should we force them to stay together?”

According to AP, a recent tragedy heightened scrutiny of the misogynistic family laws and prompted legal reform:

[A] man killed his wife by slashing her throat in a marketplace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. The wife had battled judges to grant her a divorce. Her husband is now in prison. The incident provoked widespread outrage in a culture where violence against women mostly takes place in private and is considered an internal, family issue. The changes make a huge step forward in a society where many still believe that a woman should have no right to separate from her husband.

READ MORE: Palestinians chip away at male divorce monopoly, By DIAA HADID, Associated Press (August 31, 2012).