New generation prefers boy-girl relationships [Archives:2007/1032/Reportage]

March 12 2007

Nawal Zaid
For Yemen Times

Although the relationship between man and woman is viewed with suspicion, the new generation of Yemenis is turning away from their conservative social habits and traditions, as far as the relationship between man and woman is concerned.

Yemen is a conservative society that doesn't allow relationships between the sexes; therefore, Yemeni youths prefer making relationships without their parents' or relatives' knowledge.

Friendship between opposite genders differs from one society and culture to another. In talking about such a relationship, we hear what's known as boyfriend and girlfriend, which is a legal relationship. When a girl reaches age 18, she becomes responsible for herself, with all rights and freedoms to live her own independent life.

This type of relationship is acceptable for some youths in Arab and Islamic countries; however, Yemen is a tribal-governed society with its own traditions and cultures, wherein a girl isn't allowed to have a boyfriend and vice versa. Yemeni society doesn't accept girls having friendships with boys at school or college – they can't even shake hands with boys.

But nowadays, Yemeni youth no longer are adhering to these societal rules. Secret, unofficial and 'tourist' marriages have become very common as educated young men and women have become more open and influenced by Western societies.

Yemeni society is very conservative and doesn't allow a woman to form a relationship with a man or vice versa. Additionally, in Islam, a woman is forbidden to sit somewhere alone with a man when there's no one except them, a rule many Yemenis still believe.

In major cities like Sana'a, Taiz and Aden, it's acceptable for educated Yemenis to form relationships with women, whereas others completely reject the idea, just as it's rejected in rural areas, which represent 75 percent of Yemen's 20 million inhabitants.

“I have many women friends at work, but I refuse when a man and woman's relationship develops into a sexual one,” notes Yahya Abdullah Al-Rabouei, who works in the Presidential Office.

A suspicious relationship

Many Yemenis view the relationship between a man and a woman with suspicion. If a man is seen talking to a woman, others immediately think he's trying to flirt with, date or seduce her.

“When a woman talks with a man, whether on the street or at college, people think evil of them,” says 26-year-old Nasser Al-Hamami, adding that this occurs due to lack of cultural understanding between people.

“For most Yemenis, it's not permissible for a man to speak with a strange woman. When they see a man talking to a woman, they immediately think he's flirting with or dating her,” he adds.

Hana Al-Matari, a 23-year-old Sana'a University student, says she's in favor of relationships between men and women and doesn't care what others say. “Frankly, I encourage relations between boys and girls. I don't care what people will say about me,” she affirms.

A new trend in friendship

Some Yemeni youths who worry about social traditions turn to the internet seeking relationships outside of their families' knowledge. These are known as cyber-relations.

“It's easy for both sexes to fall in love or form other types of relationships through chat programs. Thousands of youths do this in our society,” Al-Hamami notes.

Official statistics for 2000 showed that the percentage of internet subscribers was 3.51 for every 10,000 people. During the second half of 2002, it was 4.7 percent for every 10,000 people and 8 percent for every 10,000 people by the end of 2002.

In 2000, there were 36,600 computers, which is one computer for every 500 citizens, and 0.82 percent for every 100 people in 2002. Statistics at that time showed that the number of computers in Yemen was 140,000.

Actually, many Yemenis prefer to form relationships through the internet. Such relationships sometimes end in love, marriage or nothing at all. “I like to meet girls on chat programs because we can see and talk to each other without being worried and we can talk freely,” comments 22-year-old Ali Mohammed, adding that he has several female friends.

Sana'a University psychological science professor Abdulsalam Ishaish says relations between men and women begin at college or work, but are limited at first. “The relationship sometimes develops into deeper emotions. It's no problem if it ends in love and marriage,” he adds.