EGYPT: Bridget Jones, the Cairo version
“Old Maids for Change” is a Facebook group attracting wide media attention for bringing into the limelight the stigma of being an unmarried woman in a patriarchal society.
The group was created by Yomna Mokhtar, a 27-year-old journalist who was inspired by the suffering of her unwed friends and colleagues.
“The girls I know suffer all the time from social pressures,” said Mokhtar. “No matter how successful they are at work and how well educated they are, they are not appreciated. They are always perceived as incomplete beings simply because they are not married. I found this unfair.”
The group identifies itself as “a social movement that seeks to reverse the negative attitude towards every unmarried girl who eventually found herself forced to either to get married to any man so she could get rid of the title ‘old maid,’ or hold onto her position, insisting to wait until she finds the right guy.... We are not calling on girls to boycott marriage but we refuse the idea that girls get married under pressures from their families or the society or just to get rid of the title ‘old maid,’ ” read the group’s mission statement.
The term “old maid” is particularly troubling to Mokhtar: “It sometimes implies mockery; people mock girls who fail to attract a man. On other occasions, it can imply compassion as some people pity unmarried girls. However, other people perceive the old maid as a person who envies all married couples.”
“Girls should have the full right to decide not to get married, the society has no right to blame them for that,” added Mokhtar, whose Facebook group has grown to 550 members since May.
“I really hope we can change unfair and obsolete beliefs in our society,” Radwa Haroun wrote on the group’s Web page. “How long will we keep treating girls just as bodies without brains that have no right to decide on their fates?”
Yet, one should not assume that the group’s appeal is limited to women. Men have also taken a peek at Old Maids for Change: “This group is a great idea and I hope we can convince girls not to get married just for the sake of marriage,” wrote Ahmed Anwar Kamel on the group’s Web page. “I have been through that. I had an arranged marriage. My wife just wanted to get rid of the title ‘unmarried.’ Once we got married, our life turned into hell and our marriage came to an end. My wife acquired a new title then and the victim was a little child.”
This is not the first attempt in cyberspace to shed light on the social pressures experienced by girls and young women. Last year, a pharmacist took Egyptian society by surprise with her satirical blog “wanna-be-a-bride,” which carried a ruthless mockery of marriage traditions in Egyptian society. Earlier this year, the blog content was turned into a book that sold like hotcakes.
—Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo
Photo: The group's logo on Facebook, which reads, "Old Maid: I think about how to put an end to it."