The Dynamics of Divorce
Depending on the context or the individual, divorce possesses a variety of definitions and connotations. For some, it is a symbol of renewal or rebirth—providing an opportunity for a second chance. For others, it exists as a symbol of declining family values—a metric used by statisticians, or more realistically and often politicians, to delineate the “moral health” of a group of people or a country. In the global context, the countries leading in divorce rates and statistics are Western European countries—those countries less stricken by war and typically possessing high rates of gender equality. While these statistics suggest a sense of autonomy in that women have traditionally been constrained in marriages without the opportunity or the economic independence to pursue divorces, they can also suggest an influence on the happiness of the country’s citizens.
For example, in Great Britain where loneliness exists at an all-time high—the country created the position of a Minister of Loneliness in 2018—those individuals that have gone through a divorce are more likely to report feeling lonely or isolated. With loneliness growing as a public health problem for a number of European countries, reducing the number of divorces occurring each year could be a step toward ameliorating the loneliness crisis. Thus, for many public officials across Europe, particularly in Great Britain, reducing the frequency or likelihood of divorce could help to create a healthier and happier country with decreased feelings of isolation.
Whereas in Great Britain and other countries across Europe divorce exists as a factor of loneliness and isolation, in West Africa women are increasingly experiencing liberation due to increased ability to divorce their husbands. In countries like Niger and Mali, which have startlingly low rates of gender equality, women have traditionally been barred from seeking divorces both by cultural mores and by the legal system. In recent years, however, the number of female-initiated divorces has skyrocketed across West Africa. According to The New York Times, almost 50 women each month come to a single street-side court for divorce proceedings. These women are unsatisfied with their marriages, looking for a relationship where they feel that they are on level ground with their partner. Some were child brides and are now adults searching for independence. For these women divorce and increased access to seeking a divorce exist as important steps in attaining equality and autonomy—empowering women to live on their own and search for happiness and fulfillment.
Unlike the feelings of isolation often associated with divorce in European countries, divorce in West Africa has taken on new meaning—altering the dynamics of traditional relationships and ushering in feelings of liberation and independence. While traditionally divorce holds a negative connotation of lonely separation, in West Africa the word has become something almost hopeful, symbolizing a break from tradition in an empowering way.