Why So Many Women Stay Unmarried
RIYADH, 5 September 2003 — A local newspaper has reported that the number of unmarried Saudi women would reach as many as four million in the next five years. It also reported that there are currently about 1.5 million women who are too old to marry.
In a country where the latest statistics indicate that female citizens represent 49.4 percent of the population, single women may become a major problem.
There are many reasons for the phenomenon. Some have to do with the complex nature of Saudi society, where tribal prejudice still plays an important part. The origins of a person are still a decisive factor in whether their marriage proposal is accepted or not.
A single woman says that such beliefs can only be damaging to women’s chances of marrying. “Many parents fail to understand that rejecting suitors whose background is considered unsuitable may severely limit the chances of the woman getting married at all. Turning an eligible man down only because of his nationality or origin is absurd. Our religion provides clear guidance for marriage. I wish our parents followed them.”
In a society that is almost completely segregated, the limited opportunities for the sexes to meet are another reason for the isolation of many women. “I find it hard to accept the idea of marrying a man whose mother or sister chose me for him,” says a single woman in her late 20s. “The idea of traditional marriage is totally unacceptable to me. I would hate to think of myself as a thing that can be disposed of by others. Even if I was lucky and allowed to meet the guy, I would still feel like being examined by a buyer.”
Even in cases where women are able to meet the man first, it is still very difficult for them to make the first move. The fear that such initiative could be misunderstood remains a huge barrier that prevents women from taking the risk.
“Our men are used to taking the lead in everything. It is their call or not at all,” says a single girl. “What if I was rejected? What if he used it against me? These are questions I always ask myself before I even think of trying.”
This means that matchmaking plays a very significant role and professional matchmakers have become a huge success. Roaming around every conceivable spot where women meet and with purses full of bachelors’ pictures, they offer their services to help women find the perfect partner.
The Internet may offer another solution. Numerous chatrooms allow people from around the world to meet, and matchmaking websites are dedicated to introducing the two sexes to each other, displaying the profiles of men and women. But they are an option many Saudis are hesitant to use. “Whether it is a matchmaker, the Internet or any other way of meeting people, the circumstances in which people meet are always questionable. Gossip is also a worry,” says a young woman.
So is age. In the West they say that the bell rings at 40, but in Saudi Arabia it rings way before then. Most Saudi men tend to marry younger women, usually without worrying about what is sometimes a huge age gap. Because of this, many women fall through the net. As women get older, their chances of getting married diminish and eventually disappear completely. Often the only option they have is to become a second wife or marry a widower or divorcee.
“The older the woman gets the slimmer her chances. With every year we add to our lives, the pressure increases. Add to that the pressure you get from the people around. If you get to a certain age and you are still single, they make you feel as if your are doomed, regardless of your achievements and no matter how content you otherwise are. You unintentionally develop a feeling that you’re deprived,” says a woman in her 40s.
The pressure that many women experience may lead to quick and possibly unethical solutions. Certain types of marriage like the weekend marriage, the summer marriage and others are on the rise, and they all add to the problems our society has to deal with.