Accessibility links

African Divorcees Conquer Social Taboo

  • Phuong Tran

In some parts of Africa, divorce is still considered a scandal. But, as more couples move to Africa's rapidly growing cities, divorce has become less of a cultural shock. Although female divorcees in rural communities may still suffer blame for a failed marriage, women are fighting back in cities and telling their side of the story. Reporter Phuong Tran has more from Dakar, in this fourth report in a five-part series on the changing African family.

Senegalese Khadija Sall, 34, leans into the mirror and applies blue eye makeup before clients arrive in the one-room salon she has owned for nine years.

She works long hours here, something she says her ex-husband was never able to accept.

"If you have a wife who wants to work to help you and your children, you need to support her," she said. "If you do not have money, then give her encouragement. My husband did absolutely nothing to help me, nothing. Why would I put up with a man like that? I love my job and he did not understand that."

After 16 years of marriage, four children and a fast-growing business, Sall left her husband.

"I was sick of him, sick of our constant fighting," she explained. "Every day, our children had to watch us fight. I left him because I did not want my children to go through that."

She says she has to work longer hours now to support her children. However, she says she is happier, and free to do the job she loves.

"Women want to be independent," she said. "Every woman works, if she can. If you do not have a job, you need to depend on a man for money. And, we both know that men are cheap and do not want to give us money. Work is good. I love my job. I respect my job, because I respect myself. Do you understand?"

Sociologist Djiby Diakhate says communities have dramatically changed how they view divorce - especially in urban areas.

"Marriage has always been a sacred contract between two families," he noted. "Now, with western concepts of individualism and personal liberty, it is more of a contract between two people. There is less family pressure to stay married, so divorced women are not looked down on, as before. Divorce is not only more common now, but also more accepted."

In the most recent Demographic Health Survey of Senegal's families, close to 300,000 women were divorced or separated in 2005.

A Senegalese woman who wants to divorce her husband needs to go to court, if her husband does not agree, whereas Islamic law in Senegal allows a man to divorce, regardless of what his wife says.

One of the 10 reasons women can file for divorce in court is if her husband is not able to support the family, financially.

Sall prepares to close her beauty salon for the day.

When asked if she wants to marry again, she looks over her shop and its small piles of hair weaves, her receipt book of the day's earnings and tubs of leftover soapy water before she answers.

"Of course," she replies. She says when she meets a man who wants to encourage and help her with her work, she will marry him.

XS
SM
MD
LG