September 10th, 2016
Certain social heritage has come to pose a problem for Arab societies, threatening their very existence. One aspect seen in most conservative Arab societies is child marriage. It starts early with phrases that reinforce gender stereotypes such as “She has grown into a beautiful bride” and “Hope to see you a bride soon”. This kind of word choice sculpts a minor’s view of her future on a subconscious level, leading her to believe that the apex of her happiness is to marry “the right one”, and that her education and career are secondary. Inherited culture hails married women and dictates that a female’s greatest goal is to get married.
So how did the revolutions that swept through the Arab Spring nations affect those traditions and social problems? Not only did the revolutions demand the removal of decades old dictatorships, but also the removal of those obsolete traditions that long stood in the way of youth aspirations for true change and advancement. Did the status quo remain or have things become worse, especially after the rise of extremists in several Arab countries? What about the situation in Syria?
“Not a week goes by without news of someone getting married” said Abu Hassan, amazed at this phenomenon that is sweeping through ISIS controlled areas in Deir Alzour, “Engagement and marriage are the most commonly used words today”. Despite siege and poverty, marriage has continued unabated in that area. “Two of my nephews got married a month ago” added Abu Hassan, “Mind you, they were only 14!”. Marriage of minors is widespread nowadays. “Families resort to marrying off their sons is in order to keep them from joining ISIS.” Explained Abu Hassan. “They believe that a wife would divert their attention from war and fighting. Besides, it would be a chance to make up for the loss of lives. ISIS itself encourages marriage as the next generation would grow under their control and would become the nation’s salvation. They call them the cubs of the caliphate!” Abu Hassan chuckles and jokes that he is thinking of taking up a third wife following in the footsteps of the village children.
“Abu Houssam” is busy furnishing a home for his daughter who will get married after Eid Al-Adha. He seems happy to secure a future for his 13-year-old: “We keep worrying about our daughters until death. But I can say I am now reassured, especially after all her brothers had left to Europe. I’m afraid that should something happen to me, she would become a victim of those who shall not be named (meaning ISIS). They requested her hand in marriage more than once, but I told them she was too young. I heard their muftis say many times that minors’ marriage is sanctioned by Islam, citing the prophet’s marriage to Aisha when she was 9. So I decided to marry her off to the first suitor, granted he is a native of our village”. Abu Houssam says that “All families marry off their daughters early, each for different reasons.” He goes on asserting that “marriage between minors is a problem that threatens to tear families apart as most end in divorce or the husband joining you-know-what (again, meaning ISIS). The wife then goes back to her parents divorced or widowed at 15.” Abu Houssam then recites some sad folk poetry, and that is when I interrupt -in an attempt to avoid spoiling the nearly 50 year old’s happiness- to tell him that tomorrow will be a better day.
It seems that this crack that is dividing the society and changing its values will take many years to repair. Perhaps the first step, after deposing authoritarianism and extremism, is to go back to women’s issues, make them a priority, and confront these absurdities that keep trying to change our lives. We need to rehabilitate women and tackle their problems while keeping in mind their cultural and religious realities, and work on creating a female workforce that is creative and capable in the social and intellectual fields, among others.
Translated by Dima Alghazzy