Egypt : “Old Maids” protest on Facebook

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Yomna Moktar could not take anymore of the stigmatisation and marginalisation from her fellow Egyptians towards single women. The young journalist’s decision to react led her to create a group on Facebook to openly tackle the issue of single women in the Egyptian society. The name of the group is “Old Maids for a change”. Interview.

Yomna Mokhtar is 27 years old and single. Being single is not a crime in Egypt but rather the cause of ridicule, frustration, stigmatisation and marginalisation. This has resulted in some women using marriage more as a shield to quell this social injustice rather than for its traditional meaning of love. But this remedy has proved itself, more often than not, to be even more detrimental. This is the reason behind Yomna Mokhtar’s Facebook group, “Old Maids for a change”. Created in the month of May, 2008, the fast growing group currently has about 800 members.

Yomna Mokhtar, talks about the objectives of her initiative as well as the social pressures which single Egyptian women fall prey to. What are the objectives of your group?

Yomna Moktar: My objective is to change mentalities concerning single women and also tell women not to allow themselves to be victimised by social ideologies. The group helps women bear with the pressure while working to achieve success. It also explains the culture of marriage and how to select a convenient spouse. How would you describe the perception of single women in Egypt?

Yomna Mokhtar: They are considered as half women, because the Egyptian society only sees women as mothers. Therefore if a woman is not married she is not considered complete. Could you throw some light on the marginalisation of single women at home, among friends, at work…?

Yomna Moktar: Within the familiy set up, parents do not mind pushing “old maids” into the arms of any man who comes along because she is not able to attract a man for herself. In what concerns friendships, women have the tendency of cutting off from their single friends when they get married because they think that their married status could arouse jealousy. As for the work place, one always encounters questions like “why aren’t you married at your age?”, as though the woman is to be held responsible for not being married. Some Egyptian films depict that women who remain single are not beautiful. In these films the single woman is a subject of ridicule. Do you know if the pressure is as heavy on single men?

Yomna Mokhtar: Single women bear the pressure alone, there is no pressure on single men. How do women deal with these pressures psychologically?

Yomna Mokhtar: They lose faith in themselves and the pressure prevents them from achieving professional objectives. At the same time, the society has little respect for their professional achievements because they are not married. Have you heard of women who only get married to avoid pressure?

Yomna Mokhtar: Yes, there are some women like that. The ensuing consequence is that they get divorced and so instead of being called “old maids”, they are called “divorced mothers”. Do women realise that they risk being stigmatised after divorce?

Yomna Mokhtar: Yes, but certain girls prefer being referred to as “divorced” than single. They sometimes seek to flee from being stigmatised whatever the consequence. Some women only get married to have children as the religion does not accept sexual relations outside a marriage set up. Do some single women try to find reasons to justify their status or try to avoid these pressures by leaving the country?

Yomna Mokhtar: In a conservative country like Egypt, it is unacceptable for most women to travel alone or live far from their families. Nonetheless, some girls try to prove to their families that they can take care of themselves, especially if they are independent and gainfully employed. Is this pressure Egyptian in nature or do women from other backgrounds suffer the same predicament?

Yomna Mokhtar: Most Arab countries have the same problem. I have received messages from Malaysian women facing the same problem. Even in Western countries single women are sometimes referred to as “Old Maids”. some men and couples have joined your Facebook group. What do you think prompted them to jump on the band wagon?

Yomna Mokhtar: I think that because discussing “old maids” is considered a taboo many men are curious to know how they think. I am trying to share my ideas. Has your initiative been criticised by anyone?

Yomna Mokhtar: Many women do not like the word “old maids” and above all the Arab term “anies”. They think that my initiative is a step backward and strengthens the demeaning sense of “anies”.

Visit Yomna Mokhtar’s group: Old Maids for a change

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