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Upholding women’s rights through a divorce law


Marital status is linked to whether a woman has ever experienced violence, a recent survey revealed.


According to the 2022 Philippines National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), 11 percent of women who have never been married have experienced any violence, as compared to 19 percent of women who are or have ever been married. Moreover, 45 percent of women who are currently divorced/separated, or widowed, and 17 percent of currently married women have experienced violence. 


These women who have experienced or are experiencing physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse from their spouse cannot simply walk away from such an abusive relationship. Their options of ending their marriage are very limited and even discouraging.


In the Philippines, the only country (aside from the Vatican City, which is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church) that has yet to legalize divorce, violence or abuse is not among the grounds for annulment of marriage. And even if there is a valid reason for annulment, the process is costly.


Legal separation can be an option, but this is merely bed-and-board separation of the spouses. They are still married, which means that the ties that bind, including the pain and trauma of a failed relationship cannot be escaped. 


Divorce, a fight for women’s rights


The very limited options for ending a broken marriage is already disheartening, and typically, women bear the brunt, especially if they have children and the wife is financially dependent on the husband. It is quite ironic that even if the Philippines is a leader in closing the gender gap, the Filipino family remains patriarchal especially in the countryside and in poor communities, leaving wives still mainly responsible for caregiving and housework duties. 


In the United States, a study led by the American Sociological Association determined that nearly 70 percent of divorces are initiated by women. One of the main factors is the overburdening responsibilities. Women feel more pressure to perform domestic duties while also pursuing a career, but they do not get enough support from their husbands.


Women should be given the right to decide for their best interest, to have the option to pursue a life where they can excel and be the best version of themselves. A marriage should never reduce a woman’s self-worth.


It is high time to make divorce a legal option in the country. A divorce law would give women the power to walk away from an irreparable relationship. It will also allow state lawyers to provide services for those who cannot afford the cost of such procedure. 


But such a law must also ensure that both spouses, especially if the wife is financially vulnerable due to housework responsibilities, will have access to fair asset division, and husbands will provide commensurate support for their children.


Legalizing divorce is also giving women the power to regain control of their life after being trapped in a dysfunctional marriage. 


Nobody wants to have a failed relationship, but no one deserves a life of continuous violence and disarray. It should be a person’s right to decide to leave and legally end a marriage if there is presence of abuse, infidelity, and/or irreconcilable differences.


Refusing to have a divorce law is turning a blind eye to the reality that not all marriages end with happily ever after. The real world is far from being a fairytale.


We need to give strength and protection to wives, and even husbands, or both spouses who are already trapped in an unhealthy union. Divorce will not diminish the value of marriage, rather, it will give a second chance at building a better life; it is giving hope for a kinder, better future even after a failed relationship. 

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