Marital Captivity: Trapped in a religious marriage

Campaigner Shirin Musa
Campaigner Shirin Musa

Shirin Musa is a legal, political, scientific, grassroots and media activist, campaigning against marital captivity and supporting those affected by the practice with the organisation Femmes for Freedom. In a three-part series for Savera UK, Shirin shares her journey and how you can #SpeakOut against marital captivity. 

“Marital captivity is not a new phenomenon for the UK or The Netherlands. In the Netherlands, the country where I have lived for most of my life, it existed until 1971 for the native population. Up until then, Dutch couples were not able to divorce without accusing the other of adultery. This was often not an option due to adultery being considered a criminal act. After receiving many letters of male and female victims of marital captivity, the Dutch government recognised the “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” and adultery was removed from the Criminal Code.

That was then, and now we live in another era. With the arrival of millions of migrants and refugees who have contributed immensely to the EU we are today Europe has not only become a multicultural and multi-ethnic society but it has also become multi-juridical. When it comes to issues of marriage and divorce, different legal systems clash: The country of origin, the community, and the country of residency. Marital captivity becomes the reality for many women with a migrant background. Let me relate to this with my story.

I’m also a descendant of one of the millions of migrants who have contributed to the wealth of today’s Europe. I entered my marriage voluntarily and I would have never imagined that marital captivity could and would happen to me. After my civil divorce, my ex-husband refused to provide me with an Islamic divorce. I felt stuck and was not able to continue my life according to my own wishes. I felt a lot of physical pain and I was living in fear and with constant worries of social stigma from my community.

He was able to remarry and enter in a relationship with anybody he wished to without any consequences according to Islamic, Pakistani, and Dutch law. While if I were to remarry under Dutch law, I would be considered a bigamist and an adulterous woman according to Islam and my country of origin Pakistan. This could also lead to corporal punishments or the death penalty for this crime. And we are all aware that bigamy and adultery has more serious repercussions for women than for men.

I asked religious authorities, lawyers, and professors for help and no one was able to help me. Although they acknowledged my situation, they gave me no options. At this point of my life, I was all alone, so I decided to take this upon myself to find a solution.”

Afrah Qassim, founder and CEO of Savera UK added: “Marital captivity is a harmful practice and a form of ‘honour’-based abuse that happens in the UK, as well as around the world. Often hidden, or not widely recognised or understood, martial captivity affects women of all faiths and is a violation of human rights.”