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The wedding conflict: Why Gazans are refusing marriage Open in fullscreen

Mohammed Arafat

The wedding conflict: Why Gazans are refusing marriage

Many Gazans consider marriage an important aspect of life but it doesn’t come cheap [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 January, 2017

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Official Palestinian statistics show that there are 125,000 single women of marriageable age, in a population of 180,000.

The daily life of Palestinians in Gaza is hard to imagine. In a densely populated area, the problems go far beyond not having food, jobs or a balanced life.

Many single Gazans consider marriage an important aspect of life and a way to provide emotional, social and physical support in the face of hardships.  

Since 2006, thousands have graduated and have embarked on a job search in the hopes of securing a better life for themselves.

The continuous conflict between Palestinians and Israelis on one hand, Fatah and Hamas on the other and the unemployment crisis has forced the youth to fall into despondency.

Young men, to find a way to cope, have resorted to fleeing the Gaza Strip, leaving a large deficit in the population ratio. Around 230,000 Gazans are unemployed, and poverty is at an all-time high of 65 percent.

Official Palestinian statistics show that there are 125,000 single women of marriageable age, in a population of 180,000.

Researchers link the marriage crisis to several reasons; the three wars that left thousands of young men dead and the unemployment crisis that forced thousands more to immigrate to other countries in the hope that they can find their future there.

Studies have also revealed however that many young people in Gaza, who are able to marry, refuse to do so, from a fear of what the future may hold; and looming threats of a war that can end their dreams entirely.  

With the cost of a wedding exceeding $10,000, marriage does not come cheap. The average dowry can range anything from five to seven thousand dollars, while many families on the brides’ side request an apartment as a condition for marriage. With an average income for those employed at $300, and rent at $400, the cost is often too high for those wanting marriage.

A decade ago, life in the Strip was cheaper than now due to the assistance the Palestinian Authority could get from Israel when it was governing Gaza. Thousands of Palestinians from Gaza were able to work in Israel with monthly salaries around $1500, allowing them to go about their lives with more ease.  

With the cost of a wedding exceeding $10,000, marriage does not come cheap

Since Hamas took control in 2006, and the resulting restrictions that came about from air, sea and ground, life in the Gaza Strip became a lot more costly; with goods rarely able to enter Gaza from time to time through Israeli and Egyptian borders.

With an ongoing siege, unemployment and a rapidly growing population, it has become harder to live and tolerate the high costs.

Palestinians are no longer able to work inside Israel, and jobs in the Strip have declined due to the high demand and low supply in the labour market, affecting most of Gaza’s families financially.

Mohammad Abdulrahman, a worker at Gaza’s social court, said that many young men leave their fiancées due to financial constraints. Social stigma, he added, prevents men from approaching women for marriage.  

"The rate of marriage decreased in 2016," Mohammed confirmed. "And the rate of divorce increased in the same year."

Nora, 28, speaks about her experience. "I refused many grooms who came to ask for my hand so I could complete my studies.

"After graduating, some asked for my hand, but most put down the condition of me having a job – practically impossible in Gaza.

"What made me feel bad is that most of those who came to ask my hand after graduation were old and married men needing me to 'serve' them and their children," Nora explained.

Despite being young, Nora talks about how the culture in Gaza has changed, and how many families look for girls aged 18 to 20 for their sons. "If the girl is 25, then she is considered old!"

If the girl is 25, then she is considered old!

Wisam, 34, shared his story while sitting beside his wooden cart. "I live with my family," he began, "and I am the only one working for my family."

He paused as though he did not want to say something, and then resumed: "My family consists of six, I share a room with three of my brothers, and of course I do not think of marriage.

"I really can't marry because most of the families ask for impossible conditions before discussing marrying their daughters, and I can't afford any of that," he added.

The widespread problem however, still holds social stigma. Many were reluctant to share their stories on public platforms and we could only interview Nora and Wisam.  

But what I did find was that marriage in Gaza is just one more impossible dream.

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