Spinster a humanitarian crisis [Archives:2004/759/Reportage]

August 29 2004

ByHadeah Saeed- Aden,
Asmhan Mohamed Saeed- Taiz and
Dbwan Al-Sofi – Saddah

Economic and social causes, primitive traditions and heavy burdens. Who is responsible for so many unmarried females? Owing to a set of social traditions, restrictions and economic conditions, many women are deprived – against their will – of experiencing the joy and happiness of getting married.
The rate of unmarried women in the Arab countries has reached 35%. In Yemen and Saudi, the rate stands at 30%. Who is responsible for the decline in their chances of marriage? Family and Development magazine, affiliated to the Yemen Times, conducted a field referenda in a number of governorates of Yemen, on the meaning of the term spinster, in order to find a clear definition and the actual causes behind this social problem.
Some of answers reached in this referenda contain several discrepancies regarding the definition of spinster, since the term is considered by some as a scientific illusion. 37% of those surveyed said it was a true term, 25% thought it was an unreal term. We first sought Taiz University to get a more decisive answer from a sociological perspective.
Dr. Abdulrazaq Mahmoud Al-Haiti said that spinster was a true phenomenon and a social problem that society suffers from. The term spinster, said Dr. Al-Haiti, is the most respected term to refer to an unmarried female as it should not affect the dignity, personality, character, life and reputation of the unmarried girl. The reason behind not getting married could be attributed to many factors that may differ from one girl to another and from one society to another depending on economic and social aspects.
40% of the participants in the referenda said the term spinster was mainly used in Arab societies, 15% said Muslim countries used this term and 7% said it was a foreign term.
Regarding the age for one to be labeled and referred to by the term spinster, 33% said at the age of 35 years old, 11% said the age of 40 years and 9% said at the age of 45 years old.
Regarding social effects on girls, 15% said that unmarried females become frustrated, depressed, isolated and desperate, while 15% said that unmarried females usually encounter mental illness, and 21% said that the harsh treatment of society and the way society looks upon unmarried females could lead them to commit suicide or become deviated. The unmarried female may feel frustrated and unwanted, and subsequently feels useless so may decide to put an end to her life by committing suicide, especially those unfortunate females who are ugly and poor.
Regarding why female graduates are less likely to get married, many males think that educated females are more liberal and opinionated and therefore, less acceptable by most parents than those who are stay at home. 13% say that exorbitant dowry for educated females also contributes to their abandonment by males. 19% said that the freedom of girls at universities and their interaction with male students and at the work place are also causes for not wanting to marry from them.
Regarding the wearing of veils, 10% said that the veil was not a problem, while 40% said it was for not wanting to get married to them. 4% said that many husbands insist on their wives wearing veils and would eventually divorce their wives if they insisted on their right not to wear a veil.
Dr. Abdulraza, regarding the veil, said that there are two contradicting views towards the wearing of the veil. Some see wearing the veil as a mask, to hide the ugliness of the girl and to preserve her anonymity if she behaves unacceptably. The second see the girl who wears a veil as decent and as abiding by social traditions and norms. The personal view of Dr. Abdulrazaq is that the veil hides an important part of the girl's personality. The face of a person could be the card to truly get acquainted with its bearer. Therefore, hiding the face represents the wrong approach in getting to know each other.
Regarding the unveiling of the mask and what the obstacles were in doing that at the university or at work place. 33% said that there should not be a problem for not wearing the veil at the university or at the work place since there were no apparent religious restrictions prohibiting that. 28% of those involved in the referenda said that wearing veils were related to traditional norms of our society.
And whether male and female students can cooperate jointly in an educational scientific project for example, 25% said that it could be possible, while 33% said that it would be impossible under any pretext.
Some of the views that we reached from having talks with a number of unmarried females between the age of 23-46 years old, indicated that the reasons behind their not getting married varied from traditional norms, exorbitant dowry, to misconceptions of males and parents towards educated, graduates and working females. Such ideas require efforts to increase education and cultural awareness towards educated and working females in Yemeni society in particular, and at Arab countries in general.