Sitting in the corner of her room, Abeer Mohammed narrates the story of a marriage that became a divorce.
She recollects six years of repression, abuse and instability, which ultimately led her to seriously consider separating from her husband. Despite her pain, she remained hesitant, fearful of losing her home, her son and her daughter.
She says she had two choices: divorce her husband or endure her husband’s abuse.
She thought divorce would bring misery to her and to her children.
“I was afraid of how society would look at me, that they would judge me as a failure,” she says. “I was fearful of the unknown, yet I decided divorce was the way to end my suffering. I went to my father’s house asking for a divorce. I needed to do it.”
But her request was not the end of her suffering. She experienced a new kind of pain: being considered a disgrace among relatives.
“They have not been kind to me,” she said. “I was subject to threats and warnings. I found myself alone in a merciless society.”
Abdulrahman Mohammed, Abeer’s eldest brother, says he wished his sister had not divorced because two of his sisters remain unmarried.
Mohammed says he worries about how the community treats his sister, saying, “People will point fingers at my family and call us ‘the family of the divorcee,’ saying we don’t hold marriage in high esteem.”
Mohammed is the only one in her family concerned about Abeer’s reputation.
She says she’s looked down on in her family now, even though she was respected before her divorce.
“Following divorce, I was crying out for my family’s support and sympathy. I could not stand such mistreatment.”
Najat Saem, a professor of Psychology at Sana’a University, says attitudes toward divorced women reflect general societal attitudes toward.
“Women divorced or seeking divorce are disrespected by the community under the pretext that they didn’t keep their marriage intact,” Saem says. “Although the divorcee is wronged, society blames the woman and says she’s unfit for marriage.”
A 2010 study conducted by Sana’a University found most women divorcees are subjected to social mistreatmen. Saem says it’s especially the case within the women’s family, such as from a mother or sister.
The psychological effects of divorce on women
Bodoor Al-Sa’adi says that after her divorce, she distanced herself from her sons so as not to cast a negative light on them.
She said the suffering of divorcees is aggravated when they return to their families’ homes. Comments and criticisms from her father and brothers impacted Al-Sa’adi psychologically.
“This mistreatment caused me psychological shock,” Bodoor says. “I meet no one anymore. I have locked myself in my room to hide my grief.”
According to Saem, “Once divorce is finalized, immediate psychological comfort is felt. However, the situation turns upside down in the course of her living with the family.”
The situation is exacerbated if children are involved, as she will be fully responsible for their upbringing. This is a big burden on the mother, especially if the family cannot afford to finance them.
“Social and family pressures may drive divorced women to accept anyone asking for her hand, to try to end the ordeal,” Saem says.
Saem mentioned that, in particular, women who divorce more than once and lack the support of their family.
“The divorcee is likely to experience stress and restlessness, in addition to physical diseases such as ulcers and migraines,” she says.
In Saem’s opinion, women have he right to determine their own lives, and educating society about the roles of women could help to curb derogatory views.
“Respecting women in general will bring about respect for divorcees,” she said.