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Tough work

Palestinian divorce attorney’s own mother think she’s doing ‘a job for men’

November 2, 2016

Under Sharia law and Islamic law, a man can divorce his wife simply decreeing a divorce himself — just by saying the words that he’s now divorced makes it so. Now imagine trying to be a divorce attorney playing by those kinds of rules. That’s precisely the challenge Palestinian divorce lawyer Reema Shamasneh finds herself facing day in and day out.

“Divorce is always in the man’s hands,” she told The Associated Press in an interview. “If a woman wants a divorce herself, she must go to the court and the court can give her the divorce based on the reasons specified in the law.” The 39-year-old, who is a devout Muslim, continues, saying, “The ones who fill the major posts are men. They were raised in a certain culture that says men are better than women, and this is reflected in the laws.”

Indeed, Shamasneh observations are borne out in the data. Societal norms are just not in a woman’s favor when it comes to divorce. A 2013 Pew Research survey found that one one-third of Palestinians support the idea of allowing wives the right to divorce. The religion and culture are steeped in a tradition of sexism. The same survey found that large majorities in seven Arab countries said a woman should obey her husband, in staggering numbers: 74 percent of respondents in Lebanon; 87 percent in Palestinian territories; and 93 percent in Tunisia. Even Shamasneh’s own 74-year-old mother, while proud of her daughter’s accomplishments, openly says her daughter is doing “a job for men.” Her mother, Amneh, said, “At the time, it was shameful for a woman to study and have a job.”

Interestingly, though, her father seemed to be somewhat open-minded about women’s rights. As children Shamasneh’s four brothers were allowed to come and go as they pleased while she and her five sisters weren’t given such freedoms. But her father wanted all of his children to have the same chance of success and demanded they each get an education. The law suited Shamasneh’s studious and analytical nature very well. But in some ways, she’s still held back by the very culture she’s trying to change. She wears the headscarf and still lives at home with her mother and father, who is now retired.

Now, she’s fighting the hard fight for women’s rights. The AP recounts a recent case Shamasneh took on in which her client was desperate to escape her marriage from a man who physically abused her, threw scalding tea on her and refused to allow her to see her dying mother. And the bitter outcome, which brought Shamasneh to tears, stands as a reminder that as much as Shamasneh and her colleagues are affecting change, there is still very much progress to be made. Watch the video below for more on Shamasneh.

Read the full story at The Associated Press.