Cairo club gives divorcees a new beginning

Friday 16/10/2015
Abeer al-Ansari, head of the divorcee club in Egypt.

Cairo - Divorce did not bring an end to hope in Abeer al-Ansari’s life. On the contrary, it was the beginning of a life of hope.

A few years ago, Ansari was married to a British man. She did her best to make the marriage a success, but, she said, she had an “uncooperative” partner. She divorced the man and returned to Egypt.

In Egypt, where divorce is viewed by the majority of Muslims as the most despicable of all permissible things, Ansari was viewed as a failure.

“Everybody, even my closest friends, stayed away from me,” Ansari said. “Day after day, my friendships started to be limited to women divorced like me.”

Ansari’s discussions with other divorcees focused on post-divorce challenges and problems, including negative social perceptions, how she and her divorced friends can start a new chapter in their lives and how they can bring up their children in the absence of fathers.

At this point, she came up with the idea of establishing a club where she and her divorced friends could meet to discuss their problems and receive coaching on resolving those problems.

She never expected the club would make headlines in Egypt one day and also attract a large number of divorcees desperate to be heard and receive psychological support.

Ansari officially registered the club, which has its headquarters in one of the gated communities on the outskirts of Cairo, as a non-governmental organisation. The first of its kind in Egypt, the club, in addition to helping divorced women and men face society’s negative views, works to change social perceptions about divorce in general.

“Egyptians view divorced women in a negative manner,” Ansari said. “They think a divorced woman is an immoral person who is out there to steal the husbands of other women.”

New members join Ansari’s club every year, with 200 members registered in 2015. Club membership is only valid for a year.

Unique as it is, such a club is a reflection of the growing problem of divorce and family disintegration in Egypt, according to observers.

“Divorce has become a very widespread phenomenon in our country,” Hanan Salem, a sociology professor at Ain Shams University, said. “It is present everywhere in this country, which makes it a scary phenomenon.”

The figures prove Salem’s view right. Fifty years ago, 7% of marriages each year ended in divorce in Egypt, according to the cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Centre. Now, the divorce rate is 40%.

On May 30th, the Arabic language daily al-Watan quoted a report which said that divorce rates rose by 43% from 1990 to 2013.

In 1992, the newspaper said, there were 6,500 divorce cases. Five years later, the figure jumped to 70,000, the newspaper said quoting the report, which was referred to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. It added that in 2007 there were 78,000 divorce cases, a number that increased to 141,500 cases in 2009.

The state-run Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics said there was an increase of 10.9% in divorce cases across Egypt in 2014, compared with 2013, when 162,600 divorce cases were registered. The agency added that most divorce cases — 59.6% — in 2014 were registered in urban centres.

No wonder then that divorced women are creating their own unions and clubs.

One of these women, Mahasen Saber, launched Egypt’s first internet radio station to offer divorcees the chance to speak about their problems and what had led to their divorce.

Called Motalakat Radio — Radio of the Divorced — hosts listen to divorced women and men in a bid to familiarise society with their problems and also to let other divorcees know they are not alone.

Saber also lobbies to change social perceptions about divorce, focusing on the tough times she and women in general spend with unappreciative partners before divorce.

Ansari and her club members, meanwhile, are not held back by their past relationships or marriages. They are looking forward.

Her club admits divorced men and women only. New members only pay the price of club membership applications.

A special coach gives members tips on how they can make new beginnings, raise their children well and learn from their mistakes.

They organise trips and group divorced mothers and fathers with their children to strengthen their links. Some of the members — most of them highly educated — end up married to other club members.

“Divorce, if it is inevitable, cannot be the end for any woman. It can actually be the beginning,” Ansari said. “This is why our club is keen to teach its members how to rediscover themselves to make a new beginning in life.”