Monthly Archives: December 2015

Is Egypt Really Putting a Price Tag on Women?

child bride

Photo copied from the Internet

— By:Alexandra Kinias —

Controversy erupted among Egyptian women activists over Chief Justice Ahmed El Zend’s decree that compels foreigners marrying Egyptian brides, twenty five years their junior, to issue them bank certificates worth of 50,000 L.E. On one hand, there are those who denounce the decree for putting a price tag on women, and thus facilitating prostitution and human trafficking. On the other, there are those, I among them, who hail the decree for finally addressing a subject that has been ignored for decades and taking the right step towards the protection of these women, who often are forced or lured into these marriages. A positive outcome of this controversy was that it also has exposed child marriages, a dark reality practiced in day broad light, and the failed government efforts to combat it.

Growing up in Egypt, I witnessed firsthand how poverty is the catalyst that drives many underprivileged women to marry incompatible foreign suitors from wealthy Arab countries, some with age difference that exceeds twenty five years. Once settled in their spouses’ homeland, some find themselves partners in a polygamous marriage, with a status slightly above domestic help, mistreated and often violently and sexually abused by the household. When sexual desire fades and the time comes to replace the wife with a new one, or if women rebel and ask for a divorce, they are sent back home with a suitcase, and often a child, or pregnant with one.

From the comfort of their sofas, the social media activists imprudently lashed at the government of Egypt from behind their computer screens. They ignored the fact that in Egypt, a country with extreme income inequality, this cash would enable women with no resources, a chance to start over, upon their return. Detached from reality and depleted from reason, some activists suggested that instead of putting a price tag on marriages, the government should rather intervene to stop them, quite a ludicrous statement since only a guardian (father, brother or uncle) can make such a decision.

The official marriage age in Egypt is eighteen, and the meager privilege of the 50,000 L.E., is denied to those whose marriages are unregistered, and that includes marriages of underage girls in rural villages across Egypt. Dwellers of these villages follow their own traditions and laws. In these conservative communities, people follow the guidance of the imams in the village mosques, whose preaching about girls’ eligibility to marriage when they reach puberty is to be blamed for the widespread practice of this crime.

In these rural communities, women are viewed as sex objects and breeding machines. The irony is that while some families marry their daughters at young age to protect their honor and releases the fathers from their financial responsibility, families on the other side of the spectrum marry their daughters for financial gains. For these families girls are their capital investments. But in spite of their different motives, the idea of marrying the girls at the age of fourteen is neither rejected nor negotiated. It is a status quo, a fact of life that has been passed on from one generation to the other.

The government’s incompetence to either fight or control underage marriages is because these marriages are undocumented, a manifestation of the power of the religious institutions over the government. Families draft urfi marriages, a religious contract between the girl’s guardian and the groom, signed by two male witnesses and blessed by the mosques’ imams. Urfi contracts are not official documents and don’t protect the wife’s rights in marital dispute. They are temporary vehicles till the girls are old enough for the marriage to be registered. If the marriage fails before the girls reach eighteen, children born out of them share the same fate and status as illegitimate children. If fathers walk away with the marriage contract, the burden to prove parenthood falls on the shoulder of women. Resorting to courts to issue a birth certificate to the child is a lengthy and costly procedure most can’t afford, not to mention that it exposes the families to the unlawful crime of marring an underage girl, a crime which if proven is punished by the law.

The same concept is used by families that marry their underage daughters to wealthy Arabs, or what they have become known as “seasonal marriages”, because they take place mainly during the summer season. Wealthy Arabs travel to Egypt in the summer, and through marriage brokers, they purchase underage girls for sex, a classic case of child sex trafficking. Because of the escalating rates of sex child tourism, the U.N. classified Egypt as a Tier 2 country for human trafficking, which means that Egypt is among the countries whose governments do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victim’s Program Assistance (TVPA) minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.

Child Marriages are sparked by poverty, illiteracy and greed, ignited by sexually sick societies and protected by the religious scholars. But in all fairness, poverty alone can’t be blamed because there are millions of poor families who don’t sell their girls. Civil laws can’t fight thousands of years’ old traditions, especially those that are shrouded with religious justifications.

Pedophilia is practiced in many countries around the globe. However, unlike elsewhere where it is criminalized, in the Middle East it is blessed by religious fatwas. People in rural areas in Egypt follow the preaching of their imams with disregard to the law. Wealthy pedophiles engage in child sex believing they are following in the footsteps of Prophet Mohamed, who allegedly married his wife Aisha when she was at the age of nine. Aisha’s age is highly debatable since her exact birthdate is unknown, and also because many historical events conclude that she was at least nineteen years of age when her marriage was consummated. However, because of the non-conclusive interpretations by various scholars, this crime continues and some girls are sold to one man after the other. In a horrid testimonial, a twenty four years old girl explained in televised interview how she was married eight times in ten years.

The crawling efforts by the NGOs and civil institutions to spread awareness against underage marriages are overpowered by tradition, culture, ignorance, financial gain, and above all medieval religious fatwas exploiting the innocence of these girls. Integrating these girls back into the society is also challenging. The entire society is responsible for stealing these girls childhood. What kind of future generations we expect to bring up?
References:

1- L.E. 50,000 fee on foreigners who marry Egyptian women ‘if age difference exceeds 25 years’: Justice Ministry

2- 2014 U.N. Trafficking in Persons Report – Egypt

3- A twelve years old girl engaged to be married in few months

4- A twenty four years old woman explains in televised interview how she was married eight times in ten years.

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Filed under Child marriages in Egypt, Editorial, Sex Tourism in Egypt

Polygamy: Infidelity with a License

Polygamy-WeddingCake2Women1Man-810px_shutterstock_34797862

By: Alexandra Kinias —

Polygamy, a medieval practice, is still alive today in societies where sharia rules. And even in countries where the laws don’t permit it, the imams in the mosques perform polygamous religious matrimonial ceremonies. As the powers of the imams are stronger than secular laws, these religious marriages are valid without the need to register them with the authorities. So, an immigrant to a western society can have a registered wife in front of the law, and another one or two who are not. Even though polygamy is legalized in Islam, the most faithful women strongly stand against sharing their husbands with another woman. The fact that the law permits a husband to engage in a sexual relation with another woman, doesn’t stop the first wives from feeling betrayed and cheated,  by both the husbands and the state.

Islam permitted the second marriage under very strict conditions and terms. And against the beliefs of many, it was neither promoted nor encouraged. Justice between the wives is the foundation upon which polygamy was based. In the Quranic verse 4:3, Allah says, “….…if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with them, then [marry] only one….. That is the best way to avoid doing injustice.”

Islam permits a man to marry a second wife only if he is absolutely certain that he will treat his wives fairly, and that he would share everything equally between them. In other words, a man cannot favor one woman over the other, emotionally and financially, which in reality is impossible. Failing to do that precludes the validity that permits polygamy. Men’s rationalization of polygamy without following the clear guidelines that allowed it is a clear abuse to the rights granted to them.

Reasons why men marry a second wife?

With no consideration to the emotional, mental and psychological impact they inflict on their first wives and kids, men marry second wives simply because they can. With the premise that they have neither broken the law nor sinned, they practice their right to engage in sexual relations with multiple partners. This inherited medieval practice will not be obliterated in the near future. On the contrary, in societies where conservatism is on the rise and/or economy is declining, polygamy is gaining momentum.
In spite of the clear religious justifications that permitted polygamy, for most men it is just a fling. The ludicrous justification of their actions remains elusive; whether it is discontentment or boredom with their marriages, or a self-reward for life achievements. For some polygamy is a social status. With financial gains comes a new wife.

In crude terms, polygamy in reality is a license for infidelity. Polygamous conduct is propelled by men’s primal desire: sex, which is not only accepted by their peers, but is often defended too. Advocates of polygamy compare a man’s second marriage with extramarital affairs in western societies. Naturally, their ridiculous comparison favors and condones polygamy. They incriminate the western sinners who engage in extramarital affairs, while defending Muslim men for practicing a right granted to them by their faith. That’s an absurd and irrational argument, but expected from those who ignore the fact that extramarital affairs are neither accepted in western societies nor legalized by the law.

In Islam, the consent of the first wife is required for a husband to marry a second one. The first wife then has the choice to either stay married or get a divorce. And while a few men confront the first wife with their decision, the majority keeps the marriage secret in fear of confrontation that may lead to a divorce or social tarnishing, especially among family, friends or coworkers.

With the loose family laws in Egypt, men managed to keep their second marriages clandestine. But new laws were drafted to tighten the loopholes to ensure that wives are informed when their husbands register the second marriage. Inevitably, and in defiance to these laws, men either don’t register their second marriages – similar to what Muslims do in Western societies – or conclude an ‘Orfi’ marriage, which is a simple contract drafted between the bride and groom and signed by two male witnesses.

First wives vs. second wives

No doubt second marriages violate the trust between spouses, often lost forever in some cases. It is not just the jealousy from another woman that drives the first wives, but for most it is a manifestation of failure as a woman, a partner and a wife. Not to mention the tormenting emotional pain they endure. Sadly enough, and due to several factors, not all first wives choose to terminate this demeaning love triangle. Financially dependent women would resentfully stay in this hurtful relationship, accepting emotional crumbs from their husbands, with no one to thank but the lawmakers that drafted the laws that guaranteed women’s submissiveness. Had divorce laws granted women financial independence, not many would stay in a polygamous relationship.  The situation is even worse when kids are involved. Because of the loose child support laws in Egypt, many men abandon their financial obligations towards their kids, without fear of punishment. Some would do it out of negligence while others to pressure women to stay in a dysfunctional marriage against their will. Economically threatened women are compelled to accept the situation out of financial need.

Why women become a co-wife?

Women in Egypt are living under continuous societal pressure to get married, have kids and start a family. Some would marry incompatible partners simply to avoid staying single, even if it means that this marriage inevitably would end with a divorce. Divorced women are not in any better position than the single ones. They are also subjected to their share of societal pressure. How the society perceives and treats single and divorced women play a major role in spreading polygamy.

To be objective, and before throwing the blame on these women, it is important to consider thoroughly the reasons why they choose to accept a part time husband. Circumstances vary from one case to the other, and more important than denouncing these women, it is imperative to understand why they choose to become a co-wife, tolerating the social smear, labeled as home wreckers and husbands’ thieves.

There are multiple social factors that contribute to the existence and sustainability of this love triangle, on top of which is economical. Economic pressures compel young single women, divorcees and widows with kids, to accept becoming a second wife, in secret. For many, marriage becomes a necessity and becoming a co-wife and have emotional and financial stability is better than staying single. Having a man that would provide the emotional and financial stability to a widow and her kids is a dream come true to many. Also the societal pressures on single women, who passed their prime age, leave them with fewer choices of single men and more of married ones.

Conclusion:

While polygamy is no doubt an emotional crime committed against the marriage, it is more relevant not to blame the women who take part in it as much as blaming the laws that favor men. These laws force women into one form of submission or another. The sustainability of polygamy is an affirmation that society lacks empathy, fairness and understanding in treating its women. Eradicating polygamy will only materialize if collective efforts unite to combat the reasons that cause women to fall for such marriages in the first place.

However, it is unfair to assert that all second wives marry for financial reasons or societal pressure. In a society where out-of-marriage sex in still a taboo, marriage is the answer to both men and women who are seeking a good time, with no strings attached. Many of these marriages are short lived. When the sexual desire expires, so does the marriage. For some men with means, it becomes a way of life, always ready for a new adventure. And for a wide range of these men, such adventures take place with the knowledge of the first wives who would keep a blind eye, knowing that at the end the man always comes back to her nest.

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Filed under Polygamy in Egypt, Urfi Marriage, Women in Egypt, Women Rights in Egypt