Nikah rights

THE Supreme Court recently delivered a judgement championing the rights of women within a marriage. The ruling stemmed from a case where a divorced woman sought entitlement to a plot mentioned in her nikahnama in the clause pertaining to ‘special conditions’, which her ex-husband contested. The top court held that in the presence of any ambiguity within the document, the benefit of the doubt should favour the wife, especially when she was not fully informed of her rights at the time of the marriage. The SC further ruled that allowing male family members to decide the terms of a nikah on behalf of the bride is not just a cultural and social norm but a practice that significantly disadvantages women later in their marriages. It is a profound acknowledgment that a woman’s consent and her informed participation in the drafting of the nikahnama are paramount, especially when things are stacked against her. A recent study has revealed nikah registrars’ prejudice towards women. In Lahore, an overwhelming 86pc of registrars believed that brides were not competent enough to negotiate their nikahnamas, and 85pc said that giving women divorce rights in the marriage contract would raise divorce rates. In Pakpattan, 58pc of nikahnamas were missing critical details like the bride’s CNIC, and a mere 2pc granted women the right to initiate divorce.

There is a clear and pressing need for comprehensive educational campaigns aimed at both men and women to raise awareness about the critical elements of the nikahnama. Women must be informed of their rights, such as maintenance, inheritance, and the conditions under which they can seek divorce. Moreover, it is imperative to reform the training and oversight of nikah registrars. They play a crucial role in the execution of marriage contracts and must be held to a higher standard of accountability regarding women’s rights. Legislative reforms should also be implemented to ensure that no part of the nikahnama can be manipulated to disadvantage women. Ensuring that clauses meant to protect women are mandatory and cannot be omitted or altered without the bride’s explicit consent is absolutely vital. This judicial acknowledgment of the rights of women in marriages must now be translated into widespread social and legal reforms. The path is set; we must now walk it with resolve.

Acknowledgement: Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2024

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