Scholars call for cut-price dowries
Costs can rise to as much as $7,000 or more than YR 1.5 million, while the average salary in Yemen is just $200 a month. Now there is a campaign to reduce the cost to $2,200 for a virgin bride or half that price for a woman who has already been married.
Ahmad Al-Anesi, 25, who is not yet married, said the high cost of a dowry and wedding is his main obstacle.
“This problem stands before us and we feel we cannot make our dreams come true. We cannot have the wife we want or establish a happy family,” said Al-Anesi.
He explained that young men from poor families cannot afford the expense. Sometimes, the family will sell any expensive things they own, like gold and jewelry, or spend their savings on wedding parties.
Muslim scholars and leaders, Local Council leaderships and tribal leaders have called on people in Dhamar to reduce the cost of dowries and weddings so that unemployed youth can start their own families. In Dhamar governorate, 100 km south Sana’a, the total cost of a wedding can reach $7,000.
According to a source at the Ministry of Endowments and Guidance office in Dhamar, Muslim scholars told locals at last Friday’s sermon to break the barriers preventing youths from getting married – however, some rules were laid down.
Mohammad Al-Shami, an enthusiastic resident of Dhamar, approved of the call for a new, lower dowry. He also voiced disapproval over the requirement that the groom brings his bride a belt made of gold – something that many fathers insist on. He also said that there should be only one party instead of those following the wedding day, such as Al-Dhabayal and Al-Qahwata.
However, not everyone thought the campaign was a good idea. Qaid Al-Alawi, a lawyer from Dhamar, criticized the program because young men who cannot afford to marry will also struggle to support their new families.
"I advise youths not to get married unless they have secured an income through a job or enterprise. They should think of covering the costs of having a family, not just getting married," he said, adding that early marriage can often lead to other problems that can later damage families.
Some scholars involved in the campaign work in the Ministry of Endowment and sought its help to promote the campaign. During Friday sermons, the Imams of the mosques called on locals to reduce the high cost of wedding parties and to stop bringing singers from outside the city.
Campaigners also called for a fine of YR 100,000 – or just over $450 – against those who do not follow the new guidelines, with representatives from the ministry to receive complaints.
Judge Mohammad Dadya, a member of the Yemeni Muslim Scholars in Dhamar, said that people should abide by the rules of Islam that call for the facilitation of marriage.
“I call on the parents not to lay impossible conditions on their daughters’ future husbands because this might be behind social problems,” said Dadya.
The campaign has been designed to help unmarried young men start their families. In Yemen’s conservative society, unmarried men are blamed for much of the sexual harassment experienced by women.
Hussein Al-Ansi said that the issue of expensive dowries should be solved by the state, with everyone committing themselves to finding a solution. He added that while he respects the call for lower dowries, social differences would remain a barrier regardless of any positive campaigns.
“Fathers look for the best for their daughters and that’s why they make their daughters’ dowries expensive and matched with the other girls so that they do not feel inferior,” he explained.
Salwa Mohammad, a 22-year old engaged woman, said that the cost of weddings is a problem threatening the future of many families.
“When a man decides to marry a woman, he will enter a world of poverty for years after the marriage. Such a problem will affect his lifestyle and he will not be able to live happily ever after,” said Mohammad.
“After the wedding the newly married couple constantly thinks about how to pay off their debts, which could evolve into many problems that lead to divorce.”
Mohammad explained that since it is the parents who define the dowry, the girl has no option to helping her husband until they are married and she can give him some of the gold she bought with her dowry.
She has been engaged for more than four years as her fiancé left to work in Al-Mahra governorate to save and pay her dowry.
Kholod Ahmad, 31, said that fathers from well-known families impose even higher conditions on their daughters’ hands – especially when the girls are educated as they should not marry anyone less respected or educated. She added that conservative girls who are kept at home also struggle to find a suitor.
“Some of the families are conservative and if the girl does not find a job she has to stay at home. How can such girls get to be known if they are kept inside?” asked Kolod.