Observations by the Allahabad High Court on triple talaq last week underlined concern over the plight of Muslim women in the matter of marital rights. Government figures show Muslim women between the ages of 20 and 34 are more likely to be divorced than women of any other community in the same age group. The figures, however, show other trends that caution against drawing generalised conclusions.
Census figures from 2001 and 2011 show the percentage of Muslim women aged 20-39 who were never married nearly doubled over the decade — the percentage increase of 94% was significantly higher than among Buddhist (72.78%), Hindu (69.13%) and Sikh (66.21%) women.
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Nearly 33.70 lakh Muslim women — 12.87% of 2.1 crore Muslim women aged 20-39 — were unmarried in 2011, figures show.
During the same decade (2001 to 2011), the percentage of Muslim women in this age group without children increased by 39%, a rate of increase that was second only to Buddhist women (45%). The number of Hindu women in this same group increased by 29.5% between the two Censuses.
The 2011 Census recorded the number of married women between the ages 20 and 39 who did not have children at 2.73 crore. This was an increase of 31% from the 2.08 crore women in this group in the 2001 Census.
Activists claim better conditions in urban areas have allowed younger Muslim women greater choice in leading their lives.
“Improving socioeconomic conditions within the community have played a role in helping women become more assertive. Women to a certain degree have greater control over their lives than they did earlier,” Noor Jehan Safia Niiaz, convener of the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, said.
“The trend may not be so obvious in rural areas but urban Muslims, as they become empowered, are taking time to plan their families. The increasing numbers of Muslim girls who are stepping out to work has also played a role in this,” Rubina Feroz, general secretary of Ishterak Education Society and member of the Association of Muslim Professionals, said.