Spinsterhood in Qatar up ‘as men shy away from marriage’
WHILE more and more Qatari women wished to marry, men in the country did not share the same level of enthusiasm, the director of a Doha-based marriage bureau said.
"On an average, for every three proposals presented by men, there are some 40 proposals received from women," he told local Arabic daily Arrayah.
Abdul Aziz al-Ansari told the daily that there was a wide gap between the number of young women and men contacting the office, requesting information on suitable spouses.
He claimed half of the Qatari women were unmarried.
Al-Ansari said the bureau, which is a voluntary project, helped people find suitable life partners and fight the problem of spinsterhood in Qatar.
"We hope to solve the rising cases of spinsterhood in Qatar within five years," he was quoted as saying.
"I am ready to offer free services for nationals and expatriates who are looking for life partners. All correspondence in this regard will be treated in strict confidence."
Speaking about his project, al-Ansari said he depended on 15 female volunteers whose job was to scout for women desiring to get married.
"Over 160 people have been married with the help of our services," al-Ansari told the daily, adding that the office also provided other marriage-related services at very low prices.
Every person (male or female) seeking a life partner, furnishes the office with specific requirements, al-Ansari said. "Based on the information given to us, the volunteers start their work and once they find a suitable match, the man is given the girl’s family address so that he can initiate the proceedings.
"Our office sticks to traditions and Qatari customs and no dating is permitted between young people," he said
Asked whether there have been cases of rejection after the first meeting, he said: "This happens but not often. In such cases, the office initiates a new search, keeping in mind the reasons for the failure."
Speaking on the obstacles and difficulties faced by his office, al-Ansari blamed the tradition of asking too much dowry
On the causes of the rising divorce rate in Qatar, al-Ansari said opportunities should be given to men to see their would-be wives before marriage.
He also urged men to shoulder the responsibilities of the family and avoid flings with other women when traveling out of the country.
Al-Ansari said the role of his office was merely advisory. However, the office intends to create awareness on the virtues of family life through lectures in the near future, he said.
Most men in Qatar prefer to marry employed girls because of the high cost of living, he claimed. "The demand is greater of women who work as teachers."
According to Al-Ansari, men generally do not wish to marry women who have to interact with men as part of their job responsibilities.
"There are some cases where parents sometimes create obstacles in the way of their employed daughters’ marriage because they want to benefit from their income."
Narrating a ‘funny’ incident, Al-Ansari said his office once arranged the marriage of a woman, who later made her husband marry her deputy too as per the promise she had given her colleague. "Now both of them live happily in the same apartment," he said.
Issue of ‘Married Spinsters’ Leave Some Women in Limbo
Arjuwan Lakkdawala, Arab News
JEDDAH, 8 March 2008 — Being in your early 30s may be considered a young age in general terms, but in Saudi Arabia a woman who hasn’t found a stable married life by then may never get it. Take Asma as an example. At 31, Asma was facing family pressure to find a suitable husband.
“My father wanted me to marry either a relative or a member of our tribe,” she said. “No one from my family asked for my hand in marriage. Year after year went by. It was then that my mother tried to convince my father that I was approaching spinsterhood, and a marriage had to be arranged fast. Initially he did not listen.”
But after a man, who already had one wife, approached Asma’s family about marriage, it looked like Asma’s life was settled. However, things took a turn for the worse.
“He said that he would force me to rot at my father’s house as a spinster by neither divorcing me nor having the wedding,” Asma told Arab News as she broke into tears.
Today Asma still lives with her father as her husband refuses to divorce her and also refuses to let her live with him. Due to the social customs that prevent interactions among unrelated men and women, the latter — who are more likely to be financially harmed by being single than men — find the closed social upbringing a great hindrance to their ability in finding spouses. Asma’s problem illustrates some of the issues that can arise under this system.
The groom-selection process may involve wealthy families who turn down suitors because of differences in financial status. Likewise, unemployed young women can be unattractive to mothers looking for wealthy brides for their sons. And tribal issues are often a factor.
Two years ago, Asma said a man who already had a wife approached her father. Since he was from the same tribe, and especially because Asma was perceived to be approaching spinster age, the family accepted the alliance.
“My father didn’t like the fact that the suitor was already married,” she said. “But because of my age, he finally started to worry that I may end up a spinster, so he agreed.”
The “nikah” (marriage finalization, including the payment of dowry) and “milka” (when bride and groom are allowed contact) took place. But in Saudi Arabia another important element of the marriage process must take place before the husband and wife may live together: a coming-out wedding ceremony. The purpose of this tradition is to ensure that the community is informed that the cohabitants are legally married.
“Our families discussed the wedding plans, about where the wedding was going to take place and all matters related to the occasion,” said Asma.
It was finally decided that the wedding would take place after three months. “During these months my husband and I would meet but only in the company of our families. I thought everything was going well since after the ‘milka’ it is normal for the wedding to take soon.”
While things started out well during those months, Asma said her husband appeared to gradually have second thoughts. “Suddenly he started making fun of me for being a spinster for such a long time,” she said. “And he asked why didn’t any of my relatives want to marry me — that there must be something wrong with me.”
The taunting got worse, she said. She complained to her mother who urged her to be patient and to try to get on his good side.
“As this behavior continued, I saw my dreams falling apart, I knew that things were going to get worse,” she said. “I took all his insults quietly, but one day it got too much, and I answered back, retorting, ‘If I’m so bad and my family is so bad why did you marry me?’” Asma said her husband then called her father and told him the wedding ceremony would be delayed for six months because of job obligations. It was then that her husband told her she would “rot” at her father’s house.
Asma now was caught in a limbo between living with her husband and being divorced.
She said her father ruled out divorce, meaning she had no family support in taking the second option. “My father was consumed by the shame it would bring on the family if I got divorced at this point,” she said. “And surely no one would marry me afterward.”
In two years Asma has gone from a 31-year-old woman seeking a husband to a 33-year-old ‘married spinster’. And people, she says, are talking about her.
“My parents pity me and know that I am not to blame, but people, such as our neighbors and distant relatives, are all saying horrible things about me, and find nothing wrong with my husband,” she said, adding that her husband has even stopped answering phone calls from her family.
Unfortunately Asma is not alone in this situation.
According to Islamic scholar Sheikh Hassen Al-Kilati, there are dozens of cases where men marry second wives only to lock them in a cage of spinsterhood when problems arise. As in Asma’s case they have the “milka” and afterward refuse or hold the wedding and disappear, keeping the girls neither single nor free to marry another.
While it’s legally possible to seek recourse from the courts, Al-Kilati says most of the times, the court generally encourages the woman to return to her husband rather than breaking the marital tie altogether. In case of divorce, women also are required to return all or some of the dowry, adding a financial burden on women.
“The law can restore these women’s rights,” said Al-Kilati. “The woman can file a compliant, and her husband will be unearthed wherever he is, and he will, by law, have to either take his wife home, or divorce her and also let her keep half her dowry as compensation, and he will have to sign legal papers stating that he will never harm or slander his ex-wife.”
But many families don’t go to court because they’re afraid that no one will marry their daughters afterward, the sheikh added, while calling on families to take into consideration the interests of the women.
“Families must know that by not going to court their problem will not be solved
,” he said. “Our daughters are not toys; families should fight for their daughters rights.”