A never-published investigative feature where I explore the problems faced by Muslim women in gaining an Islamic divorce in Australia and the anguished limbo status these women face in getting their rights recognised by a legal system which ignores their cultural and religious concerns.
Nuzhat Mukhtar* sits on the lounge of her Sydney flat gesturing for me to eat. Her twenty- one year old son Junaid walks to the kitchen and brings out a smorgasboard of dishes- Turkish pizza, profiteroles with cream, cherry topped cake, three bottles of soft drink, as well as plates and glasses.
She won’t talk until I eat at least one gargantuan slice of Turkish pizza.
Her son sits beside her supportively his somber face creased with worry.
Nuzhat was eighteen years old when she came to Australia as a new bride from Pakistan in 1982. Within three months she knew there was something drastically wrong with the marriage.
“The place I came from was a medium type of family and here where I come was very strict. At home there was no TV, no radio, no bed, no nothing. I was not even allowed to go on the balcony without covering myself completely. Everything was changed for me so much…. But I tried,” recalls Nuzhat.
The fact that she was unable to communicate or seek help from anyone in her new country was particularly difficult.
“In couple of months it was so bad that I was really badly homesick. And I was losing weight heaps, within 3 months time I was thirty- seven kilos. I could not say anything to anybody . Hardly anybody here was Pakistani and could speak my same language,” says Nuzhat.
This reality for women stuck between two different cultural systems is not uncommon. Many women cope with the abuse in silence, reluctant to seek help or advice. The situation is heightened when religious considerations come into play, changing the dynamics of marriage and divorce proceedings.