As a Qatari woman, I find that the structure of our conservative society is simple yet complex on many different levels because of its tribal nature. A tribal society is small and people are very much aware of their cultural and ethnic identity that separates them from others. I find it wonderful that in Qatar, despite the rapid change of modernity, people still hold on to traditional values and remain connected to their roots. However, I believe that some norms are not very convenient for our current modern generation because they might cause some unwanted complications.
Unchanged marriage customs is one of the things I find that are not so much adapting for our time; specifically arranged marriages. Socially speaking, women, as being the care takers, are more expected to sacrifice and alter their expectations if necessary to be able to hold the family together. In our time, there are more women holding university degrees than men. Women are more aware of their rights and life opportunities and started building their own identities, hopes, dreams and expectations. Modernization have raised women’s expectations and consequently, it is very difficult for a woman to change herself and desires to be convenient for someone she did not have enough time to get to know before she spends the rest of her life with. There are a lot of cases where both men and women have to go along the plan of their parents where they have to live with someone they do not know and do not have feelings for but are forced to adjust to each other to please their families.
Arranged marriages might have been suitable for the times of my grandmother and maybe my mother but not so much now. And that it is because not only life has changed but women themselves have changed too. Let me elaborate more on this. In old times, people used to have almost identical life styles and values; life was simple and people had different expectations and predictable roles in the society. The tribal community was even smaller in number and family ties was much stronger than today. I discussed this issue with my grandmother and she explained to me that the girl was raised and taught how to take care of household and please her husband so that when she gets married she would be fully aware of what is expected from her, and prepared with the skills to raise a good family; which is something I am not criticizing. But nowadays, many girls are not raised this way. Taking care of the family was a huge responsibility for my grandmother because it was not shared. My grandmother said about women’s life:
“The day used to start very early, we would wake up before dawn and start grinding different grains and get water from the well. We spend the morning baking bread and preparing lunch. After lunch we do other chores; some would start netting, others would collect wood or take care of the animals. During the day we would read Quran, and pray. By night, if men are not away hunting or diving they would come home after work; we get together, chat and have dinner which was usually rice and “lebban” and some date. We used to move a lot because we had to take care of everything while men were gone for months”.
Of course, this social behavior was not strictly unique to the Qatari society; this life style was common all over the region in previous times. The simple life style has transformed with my mother’s generation where women were educated and started being part of the work force in the country. But still arranged marriages was the most common way to get married. My generation has changed even more; with more education comes higher expectations. An engineer or a doctor would not expect for herself to stay at home for example! Unless she wants to of course.
There are many women in their thirties and forties who are not married and some were divorced in an early age. The divorce rate in Qatar has reached over 38% and 35% of women are considered spinsters. Three of my friends, for example, got engaged, which means in Qatari norms that she signed her marriage contract which means she was legally married. But for some reason this is called the engagement period. During this time the couple starts to get to know each other. However, even though they are legally married they still do not have the freedom to go out and be by themselves. Their meetings are always accompanied and usually in the girl’s family house. The only possible way of free communication is the phone and internet which is of course not sufficient to get to know your life partner. They all got divorced after few months of the engagement; both parties of each couple realized that they are not a good match and didn’t feel compatible. This problem is one of the contributors to the increased divorce rate in the country and left both men and women emotionally disturbed. I am not saying that arranged marriages is the only cause for divorce problem but it is defiantly a factor. The problem with unchanged marriage customs nowadays is that women have to challenge their expectation to be more accommodated to their family and their future husband. Before women used to have more social expectation from the family for her to marry someone her parents would agree on. Thus, it was easy for her to adapt to her new life for that is what she expected.
I am not saying that arranged marriages are the reason for increase divorce rate because in many instances they resulted in successful happy marriages in our modern time. I also don’t mean that knowing the person before signing the marriage contract will never lead to divorce. What I am saying is that there should be a balance so that the new generation have an opportunity to know each other as they might be committed. and perhaps during the engagement there shouldn’t be a rush towards a marriage contract or a legal commitment by the couple so it would prevent the false divorce. A fair chance to know the life time partner is necessary for a successful relationship. I believe that each man and woman would like to live their lives with someone who they choose and is compatible and share the same interest, background and life values. I don’t think I am asking for much when I want to know the person I might spend the rest of my life with to make that kind of life bonding decision.
But at the end; it is a personal choice and depend on what both parties expect and desire. and its all destined by God. This is just my point of view and I am not trying to force it on anyone.