As part of the celebrations for International Women's Day 2011, the Pathways team held a launch for 'Khul', the latest documentary film under the Real World scheme, at Birds Eye View Film Festival in London on 10 March 2011.
The film, which examines how the ancient Egyptian divorce law of khul’ is helping women in modern day Cairo to escape from abusive marriages, is directed by Lucy Bennett from Manifest Films.
Forty-seven per cent of married women in Egypt are affected by domestic violence but whilst khul’ is a crucial law, it can come at a high price. Following the stories of three women, the film explores how khul’ has both helped and hindered them and asks what more now needs to be done.
In 2000 a new divorce law, called khul', was passed in Egypt, giving Egyptian women the right to unilaterally end their marriages. According to this law, women who petition the court for khul' are not required to have or prove grounds for divorce. Moreover, the court automatically grants them divorce as long as they relinquish their post-divorce financial rights to their spouses.
When the law was first presented to the public and parliament it was vehemently attacked by those who thought that women were too emotional to be trusted with such a legal choice and others who questioned the compatibility of the new law with the doctrines of Islamic Shar’ia. But khul' comes from Islamic law. Women’s right to initiate divorce through khul' is acknowledged and sanctioned in all schools of Sunni and Sh’i Islamic Jurisprudence. Yet, when family laws were first codified by the Egyptian state in 1920, there was no mention of khul' as if it never existed before.
For the next eighty years Egyptian women could only obtain judicial divorce by petitioning for fault-based divorce. Evidentiary requirements for fault are difficult and disadvantaging to women. Moreover, the period of litigation is lengthy, the financial costs are high, and even court judgments favorable to women are appealed and re-appealed by husbands in a process that often lasts for years.
Since the introduction of khul' in 2000, women from all walks of life are resorting to this legal option to seek divorce. Increasingly, women (and particularly poor women) who have legal grounds for petitioning for fault-based divorce are resorting to khul' instead because it is a shorter, more affordable, and guaranteed legal option. The upside is these women are no longer trapped in unwanted marriages. The downside is they are foregoing the financial dues to which they would be entitled if they went for fault-based divorce.
But perhaps a greater disadvantage is that such women are not really using khul' as a pathway to no-fault divorce, but rather as an alternative to a deserved but unattainable fault-based divorce. Meanwhile, men enjoy the right to no-fault, out-of-court divorce.
So while khul' has provided a real and beneficial legal option to Egyptian women, gender justice has not yet been served in the unfolding story of Egyptian family law reform.
Reactions to the Film
The Pathways team asked members of the audience at the launch event in London for their reactions to the film and what they found useful about it.
People we asked thought the film a good way to bring issues often only covered within academic publications to the attention of a much wider public. They found the film powerful and clear in explaining a difficult topic.
You can view clips of these interviews on Pathways youtube channel.