There are more than 1.5 million single women over the age of 30, according to Ministry of Economy and Planning statistics published in 2011. This figure is expected to rise to 4 million by 2015.
The increasing number of educated women, especially Saudi women with steady jobs, is now considered the norm, but has caused a shocking rise in the number of girls who remain unmarried across the Kingdom.
According to cultural norms across much of the Eastern world, a single woman who has surpassed the age of 25 is considered to have missed the marriage train. In fact, many Eastern cultures view the 18 to 24 age bracket as the optimum for marriage.
Several Saudi girls told Arab News that men don’t go for overly independent and self-confident women. Others complained about tribal traditions.
Thirty-five-year-old Hamida, for instance, is still single.
“I wanted to marry a colleague, but my father and brothers refused the marriage proposal since he did not belong to my tribe,” said Hamida. “My brothers still do not talk to me for what they term ‘disobedience.’”
“Our culture, to some extent, is paradoxical,” said Sadia Wafee, a social activist. “Girls often have to marry within the same tribe. If they do marry outside the clan, the suitor has to be Saudi. Whatever the end result, tribal traditions give men absolute control over their daughters. This makes marriage very difficult.”
“Moreover, the absence of social gatherings and the lack of intermingling between families is adding to this celibacy phenomenon,” she said. “Yet such get-togethers are crucial, as they pave the way for singletons to talk and potentially click.”
Reem Al-Qahrni, a 23-year-old Saudi, feels the same way.
“Although culture is changing, our traditions remain the same,” she said. “A girl only becomes attractive when she is held captive in her house, waiting for a groom.”
This age limit issue is the same with expat women in conservative communities living in the Kingdom who have adopted Saudi culture.
Arab News spoke to several families from different communities.
Hiba Abdulrub, an Indian expat, said many families that have been living in the Kingdom for more than 20 or 30 years have embraced the common culture and prefer to marry their daughters off to someone who has lived in the country for just as long.
“Several men from our community consider working women to be too forward and not feminine enough,” she said.
For men, the dilemma is different, yet equally as difficult. “In the past, you couldn’t even set eyes on a woman until you were married,” said one male community member. “Now, it is the complete opposite. You see so much flesh that you are put off getting married altogether. In addition, the dowry issue and the increasing costs associated with marriage are putting young men off, adding to this crisis.”