From a Western point of view, the most striking things about this article are how matter-of-factly its author treats women’s lack of options in Saudi society, and how casually the perjorative “spinster” is thrown around, underscoring the the notion that a woman’s existence is only validated in this society by her relationship to men. Again, you can’t reform something if you don’t admit there is a problem — a much deeper problem than a few heartless not-quite-husbands.
Sharia Alert. “Issue of “˜Married Spinsters” Leave Some Women in Limbo,” by Arjuwan Lakkdawala for 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. […]
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. […]
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.[…]
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 [sic], 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.”
So, even in a best-case scenario, she’s caught between being under the control of her family or her husband. There’s more to life than that.