On Wednesday, April 18 Dr. Erin Stiles presented her research on divorce practices in Zanzibar and the use of khuluu, a judicial mechanism used to initiate divorce in East Africa. While khuluu is seen as a legitimate way for a woman to initiate legal separation from her husband, very few women pursue this route, as it remains prohibitively expensive for most, Stiles said. More commonly, women seeking divorce request a “fus,” or a free divorce.
According to Dr. Stiles, there are three kinds of khuluu in Zanzibar: judicial, extrajudicial, and false, and any of the forms can also be imposed by a judge when they believe the wife is at fault in the marriage. Some judges regard khuluu as a punitive measure that can be used to end a marriage when a woman is determined to be responsible for the marital discord, or when there are no grounds for judicial dissolution through fasikhi. Zanzibari judges view khuluu as a right that a woman can exercise to extricate herself from marriage, a right that they sometimes encourage in court. Dr. Stiles also explained a practice common in many marriage courts in Zanzibar, in which judges attempt to fix the marriage before allowing a divorce.
Ultimately, Dr. Stiles emphasized the amount of power held by judges in these situations.
“To frame khuluu as simply a divorce by women ’s prerogative, or even by mutual consent, is to overlook the way the judges may be using khulaa unilaterally as a new type of judicial divorce that is not to the specific request of either the wife or the husband,” she said.