I overheard a circle of South Asian women giving their remarks about divorce which triggered me into writing this blog post. They said “divorce shouldn’t be an option for women, our parents and great grandparents has lived together through all their struggles and never gave up, but this generation is so quick to give up and break a marriage.” Unfortunately, this is not the first time I’ve heard this. Following my process of separation, I’ve realized why so many women in our Desi community choose to suffer bad marriages instead of looking for a way out.
The first thing that comes to our mind when we see a woman suffering in a marriage is “why can’t she just leave?” Here, we’re going to discuss why it’s not so easy to leave. The main factors that keeps Desi women in unhappy marriages are social stigma and family honor.
When a woman wants to walk away from a marriage, it is viewed as a personal failure of the woman in our society. People would find fault in her and use every chance to defame her. Women are looked down upon for failed marriages. Her character will be questioned and she’ll seem as a disgrace to the society. She’ll be judged terribly by both men and women and sometimes her family. There will be a significant change in how people in her social circle interact with her. She would be harassed through phone calls from her relatives, in the street by her neighbors and she has to bear the burden of divorce all by herself.
Many times a divorce is seen as valid in our society when there’s a physical abuse that leaves a bruise in our bodies. But what about psychological abuse? Doesn’t that leave a bruise in our mental health? Doesn’t that destroy a woman’s self esteem and shatter her confidence throwing her into mental depression? Just because anyone cannot see that bruise, does not mean it is not there. The damage has been done. In our desi community, women are conditioned to keep trying until it becomes unbearable. I’ve realized that social stigma is so prevalent that even the rich or educated women would often stay in toxic or abusive marriages due to the fear of not being accepted.
Social stigma and family honor are interrelated because parents fear of losing a good reputation in society if their daughter gets divorced. Therefore, they constantly pressure their daughters to stay and tolerate in silence. It becomes almost impossible for the woman to come out of the marriage.
Many families refuse to keep their daughters with them if they choose to leave their husbands. I know of parents who refused to allow their daughters to stay with them despite knowing they are unhappy. It further isolates women who have been abused as they have nowhere to seek emotional support. This leads to women questioning their own thoughts constantly and choose to suffer in silence. Social stigma and family honor are the two main reasons why women stay in marriages and if they have kids, the stigma further leads to the suffering of children in that household.
The humiliation attached to divorce is so strong, that even many women themselves view divorcees lower in the social rank. The fear of becoming the single woman is far greater than the fear of living in an abusive marriage.
So, for those who say our parents and grandparents did it, why can’t we? Here’s why: They were forced to stay against their will because they didn’t have a choice. They didn’t have a proper education and financial independence or any freedom in general. They stayed together because of disproportionate power dynamics and gender roles in our society. Their mothers taught them to stay no matter what and adjust to anything that comes their way. The burden of making a marriage work largely rested on women’ shoulders. They just stuck through everything and let the issues build up but leaving was never an option.
Eventually, the marriage becomes full of resentment. Now imagine kids growing up in that household, seeing parents in a unloving, careless marriage where everything seems fine on the outside while things are falling apart on the inside. That’s a mental trauma that no children ever deserve to grow up with. However, this cycle of abuse continues to repeat itself because children learn what they see and they grow up thinking it is normal for couples to live like that.
So the type of people who says these things to make women feel bad are completely ignorant of the fact that women are resisting, they are growing and they’re becoming more and more confident and independent in their lives. We are here to end the cycle of abuse that our parents and grandparents and previous generations had put up with.
Lastly, If you look at the statistics, South Asian countries has the lowest divorce rates in the world. While we celebrate it as a cultural win but at the cost of abused women who have no way to get out of a toxic marriage. So there you go, you can decide which is better, miserable marriage or happily divorced.