DHAKA, Bangladesh — It’s wedding season in Dhaka. The invitations have gone out — thick, gilded envelopes inviting people to functions at fancy hotels. Apartment buildings, sometimes even entire city streets, are festooned with fairy lights.
A school friend of mine (I can’t use her name) married when we were both in our 20s. It was, by all accounts, a thoroughly modern love match. She had known the groom since high school; they had both attended college on the East Coast of the United States, and returned to Dhaka after completing their degrees.
It was a fancy wedding, with imported flowers, D.J.s, matching outfits for the entire wedding party, a hotel reception, a three-tiered wedding cake and a honeymoon in Bali. As wedding gifts, they received a car and a furnished apartment.
A few weeks after the wedding, my friend told me a story I’ve never forgotten. She said she had gone to her in-laws’ house for lunch and that her mother-in-law had cooked shrimp curry, a favorite of the newlywed couple. As the dishes were served, her husband’s mother announced: “Make sure you give the biggest shrimp to my son.”
This surprised my friend, but she smiled obediently, as one is supposed to do in these situations, and served up the biggest shrimp to her husband. A week later, they were invited to lunch at her parents’ house. Shrimp curry was again on the menu. This time, it was her own mother who said, “Give the biggest shrimp to your husband.” In my view, this was the beginning of the end of my friend’s claim to equality. Perhaps that sounds petty — what’s a couple of shrimp? — but the story hints at a greater injustice.
When my friend went to her in-laws’ house, she was asked to make a show of serving her husband when he was perfectly capable of serving himself, in a house where, technically, she was the guest and he the host. And then, even in her own home, her status was reduced. Equality, it seems, ends at the wedding gate.
You couldn’t call her match an “early marriage” — that term is reserved for women who marry below the legal age of 18 (as a majority here do, some as young as 12) — but I believe she married too young. She was educated, chose her own husband, and went on to have a successful career. Yet there is a subtle form of hegemony masked by the pomp of a lavish wedding and a pretense of equality. And it dictates that a daughter-in-law is someone to be scrutinized and a son-in-law to be exalted.
A recent study by the development organization Plan Bangladesh and the nonprofit International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, showed that 64 percent of women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18. Early marriage and early motherhood are the cause of a host of social and health problems, from a greater incidence of domestic violence to an increased risk of child and maternal mortality. Young brides stop going to school (according to Unicef, 5.6 million Bangladeshi children have dropped out of education early because of marriage) and thus have fewer opportunities for employment, and, crucially, little knowledge of their rights within marriage.
To the dismay of Bangladeshi NGOs, health workers and activists, the government’s response to this study has been a proposal to lower the legal age of marriage to 16. The minister for women and children’s affairs, Meher Afroz Chumki, commented: “In our country, girls become matured by the age of 14. This may become a burden for many families. If the country allows the parents to marry their daughters off at young age, many social problems may cease to exist as well.”
The minister for health and family affairs, Zahid Maleque, confused matters further by insisting that the problem was elopement, claiming that “rural adolescent girls run away from home to get married.” What united the two officials was the idea of an adolescent girl whose sexual maturity is a danger to her family, and of marriage as a way to control female sexual behavior. This, rather than a system that limits choices for young women, was the problem in their view.
Bangladesh is credited with having made great strides in gender equality through an emphasis on girls’ education and better access to health care. The government is also expanding a system of stipends aimed at keeping girls enrolled through secondary school.
But these programs can’t succeed until marriage stops being a prized rite that a woman must undergo at a young age, forfeiting her independence, her educational attainment and, in many cases, her emotional and physical well-being.
For a girl in a remote village, the reasons for marrying early are largely economic. Families often marry off their daughters to avoid hefty dowry payments since the younger a bride is, the less her parents have to pay.
My friend who had a big-city wedding seems far removed from the village girl whose parents force her to marry in her teens, but they are part of the same system. The glorification of marriage, in which parents spend a huge slice of their income on a wedding, means that their children can’t withstand the social pressure to marry young.
The responsibility of our elected officials should be to protect young women from regressive customs that limit their potential, not change the rules to massage government statistics. Despite the politicians’ inadequate response, the future looks promising: Studies show that the rate of early marriage is declining. But we have a long way to go to reverse the age-old assumption that an adolescent girl is a problem to which the solution is marriage.
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My name is Halima and I'm from Gauteng, South Africa and my husband (Arshad) is from Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa; we are both South African Indians.
He liked my profile on muzmatch on the 8th of April 2018 and on the 9th we started chatting and Alhamdulillah, today we are husband and wife.
About a month before I joined muzmatch I remember speaking to my mother in the kitchen as we cooked supper and she had full confidence that I'd be getting married soon.
I told her that I felt that maybe I'm just not meant to get married and be happy, taking into consideration that I personally felt like one could never find a decent man whose intention is to make Nikah in this day and age.
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We then saw each other once again in August 2018 (25th - A surprise for my 21st birthday planned by him and my mum); and again in November 2018 when he flew up to attend my younger sister's wedding with his mum, younger sister and brother-in-law.
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Today I am happily married, living my dream with my husband and I have wonderful in-laws that love me as much as they love Arshad.
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I would advise everyone to put their trust and faith in Allah SWT, never give up hope that Allah SWT will send the one who is meant for you when the time is right - for Allah is the greatest of planners. May all the other individuals find their spouses through this app as well Insha'Allah.
Halima & Arshad
My name is Yasmeen and I found my husband, Taymoor, on muzmatch on the last day of last ramadan. We were both divorced.
The first time we talked on muzmatch was in June and we got married one month later in August 2018. I always wanted to send our story to inspire others who are searching for a good husband and wife.
We are both Egyptians, from Cairo, we even work & live very near to each others in New Cairo city. I am a digital marketing manager and Taymoor is an IT manager. I am 37 years old and he is 40.
I have a daughter who is 12 years old, and I was searching for a real Muslim man who would be a good husband and father. Finally I found Taymoor, who is a good man and a good Muslim, he is very kind.
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My name is Sara and I just wanted to thank muzmatch and let you know that I finally got engaged on 24th December 2018 and found my Fiance - Ghazunfar on the App.
We are really happy Alhamdulilah and just wanted to thank you for creating a platform for Muslims to find a suitable match for marriage!
I believe it's a real blessing because initially we matched but we didn't talk as he hadn't read my messages and was not appearing online. After around 4 weeks, I unmatched however after some weeks I logged in and I came across his profile again. After some giving it some thought I decided to rematch and give it a try again.
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