In 2010, after spending more than three years in the Egyptian court system trying to divorce her husband, Mahasen Saber started “Divorce Radio,” an Internet-based station that seeks to reverse popular conceptions of divorced women and create a supportive community.
Egypt’s divorce rate is at an all-time high, having risen from 180 000 cases in 2014 to 200 000 in 2015, making it one of the world’s most divorced nations. According to official figures, a couple in Egypt gets divorced every six minutes.
“Here in Egyptian society, the woman is looked upon as if she is the one who made a big mistake getting a divorce from her husband. She is always at fault,” Saber said in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor.
The online radio station is an extension of her popular blog, which has made her something of an icon in Egyptian media. “I want Arab society to respect women who are divorced,” she continued.
The programmes on the station, which is hosted at a local Internet café in the northern governorate of Sharqiya, provides psychological assistance to women who face difficulties adjusting to their new social status. Some of the programmes on air include “You Misunderstand Us”, “Your Son: How You Raise Him”, in which a doctor discusses child-rearing for divorced parents, and “Before You Say, ‘I Want a Divorce’”, a show that makes women aware of the steps involved in obtaining a separation.
“My mother used to say, ‘You cannot get divorced. You have a child.’ But in the end you have to decide what’s right. It’s your life. If you let anyone control it, you will live like a marionette,” Saber said.
The basic assumption on which Egyptian law operates is that of all lawful acts, divorce is the one most disliked in the eyes of Allah. Fortunately, family law, which is based on Islamic principles, was altered to enable women to divorce without their husband’s agreement by going to a judge in a practice known as “khula”.
However, “khula” requires women to give up their financial rights and return dowry they received if they did not want to endure drawn-out litigation. Despite this, men are adverse to the practice. As Mehab Abolkonfan, the chairwoman of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, explained to The Christian Science Monitor, “It’s an issue of masculinity. In Eastern society, men should be [in demand], not rejected … [In khula, a woman] doesn’t have to say ‘he beats me’ or any other bad thing. Instead, she is simply saying, ‘I reject this man and I will forgo any kind of financial commitment to leave this man.’”
Despite the stigma still attached to being a divorcée, Egyptian women increasingly initiate legal proceedings. Sociologist Madiha Safty, from the American University in Cairo, suggested to the BBC that there were many factors involved in women seeking divorce.
“With more rights being given to women, such as the right to education, to employment – the idea of financial independence is very important here – she can easily have her divorce and be able to live on her own. That’s in addition to changing family laws giving women more rights,” she said. “Society is very much concerned,” she adds, “because [the perception is that] it has led to the breakdown of the family.”
Once a social taboo, the topic of divorce is now openly discussed. Aside from the Internet radio station, there are clubs and special magazines for divorcées.