Yemen’s Spinsters: A Case of Conserving Family Wealth

Friday 18 October 201905:39 pm
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"They buried me alive, May Allah deprive them of happiness in this world and the next." It was with these words that Alya'a started her conversation with Raseef22, reflecting on the unjust practices women endure in Yemen, women who have money that is.

Alya'a – a pseudonym – is a woman in her fifties who is still single, her family opposed her marriage to keep her sharia dictated share of inheritance in the family.

Alya'a is not the only woman who has been prohibited from marriage, with this phenomenon becoming widespread in the country – unfortunately without receiving much media coverage due to the reservations Yemeni society abides by: including these same women who have fallen victims to this practice.

This is confirmed by Manar Shukri, a graduate of political science, who told Raseef22: "This is happening in Yemen, there many similar cases. The problem lies not with the patriarchs or society, but with the girls who are ignorant of their rights."

Tribes are the effective rulers of Yemeni society, and their customs serve as de facto laws, reporter Amal Wahish explains to Raseef22, adding: "Many families are influenced by a tribal thought which stigmatizes women, where claiming a legal inheritance is dishonorable– and so men selfishly and arrogantly forbid a girl from marrying under the pretext that they do not want their wealth to be shared with outsiders, as if a female has no feelings and her existence is accidental, to them she was created just to say 'yes'."

My Inheritance Deprived Me of a Normal Life

"Until he died, father used to reject everyone who came forward to seek my hand in marriage, and after his death my brothers stepped into his shoes" Alya'a says, she described how she has become forcibly isolated from society, and does not attend celebrations or ceremonies, even those of her relatives.

A long series of continuous deprivations culminated with depriving Alya'a from marriage and from building a family; depriving her of motherhood; depriving her of moments of happiness and joy that come with children, and witnessing their successes in life and celebrating with them during every moments of joy.

Alya'a proceeds: "I have some sheep. Since my father passed, they have become my family. I take care of them and nurture them. I no longer have any hope of having a family, children or grandchildren."

While the ongoing debate on (men’s) polygamy continues, with voices raised both supporting and opposing the practice, we find that some Yemeni women are prohibited from even the basic right of one marriage!
Warda tells Raseef22: "I have three older sisters, who married in the family; as for me, I stayed single because I couldn't marry the man I want, he's not from the family".

The ramifications of these arbitrary practices do not only extend to women, but according to Wahish encompass all society: "These actions are helping to produce a spiteful generation, which deprecate women and view them as inferior and diminished beings, and further creates enmity and hatred between fathers and daughters, brothers and sisters, causing psychological issues for those affected; and so the woman becomes a burden to her family."

Marriage Inside the Family

While the ongoing debate on (men’s) polygamy continues, with voices raised both supporting and opposing the practice, we find that some Yemeni women are prohibited from even the basic right of one marriage!

Wahish said: "Marriage is a legitimate right for every woman, and there must be strong laws that deter those who try to prevent it. As for women who feel subjugated, they must speak up and demand their rights – for no being can take away her rights on the pretext of keeping her wealth in the family."

As with the case of Alya'a, so too does 'Warda' (another pseudonym) continue to be single; however, in her case the problem was not that her family prevented her from marrying, but rather that they forced her sisters to marry from within the family – for the very same reason which prevented Alya'a from marrying (safeguarding the family inheritance), and which restricted her choices to the narrow confines of her family.

46-year old Warda told Raseef22: "I have three older sisters, who all married within the family; as for me, I stayed single because I couldn't marry the man I want, he's not from the family and this is the most important condition in our family's traditions, in order to keep the money in the family."

Ignorance of Women’s Rights

By contrast to the custom some Yemeni families resort to such as giving the females usufruct use only of their inheritance, such assets reverting to her brothers after her death – the families of Alya'a and Warda were even more unjust to them.

Manar Shukri emphasizes that it is necessary to spread awareness amongst young girls and women about their right to choose, saying: "I have a right to choose my husband, and a girl must be given the power and emotional support to choose, whether the husband is from within the family or not", Shukri adds: "Your money, financial independence and allowance is your birth right and nobody should barter on that with you."

Unfortunately, a lack of awareness of rights prevails in Yemeni society, leaving women in a state of fear that is exploited by mebn under various pretexts such as "shame" and "honor", with the aim of imposing full economic control over women.

However, one question remains: why don’t women ask for their rights or share their stories with human rights organizations and the press? In response, Alya'a replies to that question bemused: "That is shameful, what would people say about me?" Meanwhile, Warda's response is: "The issue is in the hands of my family, and I do not have the right to go against their decisions even if I do not like the outcome."

Awareness of women’s full rights is the solution to limiting these practices directed towards women. "Women must know their basic rights to start with. The voice of truth is stronger, and we must teach our girls to be stronger."

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