Women in Arab countries have been slowly breaking the glass ceiling in an unlikely profession – as officiators of marriage and divorce.
Over the last years, governments in Tunisia, Egypt the UAE and the Palestinian territories appointed qualified women to be officiators, a job once monopolized by men. Tunisia, which appointed its first woman to the position in 2007.
“I was the first woman appointed to this job,” said Doucha a-Sachbani. “It was in a rural village and the men who held this position before me were sheikhs and others who had graduated from high institutions for judges. The job was hard in every way – but particularly because I had to fight against all the old customs, and I wasn’t even from the area.
“But despite all the difficulties, marriages are now being officiated by a woman. The people have a choice – either to use a man that they know or me.”
The next year Egypt followed suit, appointing Amal Suileman Affifi to the position. Despite the fact that Affifi had a degree in law, a group of men who worked in the profession demanded the government only appoint men citing the limitations of women in sharia law.
Their demand was rejected.
Seven years later, the government appointed another woman, Waffa Kuttub, to the position. Kuttab has a masters degree in law and sharia and is the youngest person in Egypt ever appointed as a marriage and divorce officiator.
In the entirety of the Gulf States, only one woman has been appointed to such a position. In 2008, Fatima el-Awani was appointed in Abu Dabi by the United Arab Emirates. After obtaining a degree in sharia and law from the UAE University in 2000, she worked writing legal contracts and documents for three years, which helped her get the job.
In September 2015, the High Council of the Shar’i Palestinian Court appointed a woman, Tahrir Hamad, who has an masters degree in modern Islamic sharia law, as the first woman officiator in Ramallah.