By Faisal O’Keefe
Pressure on women to marry young is not unique to the Middle East, but in this region, once a woman turns 25 she is commonly considered past her sell-by date. A Saudi woman defied peer pressure by publicly celebrating her singleness, and – with her story spiraling on social media – her online exposure may just get her hitched.
Esraa Al Hagan wearied of extended family tirelessly toiling to match her with a mate. The 27-year-old, self-described as happily single, refused their efforts, choosing to remain independent. No easy task in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where women cannot vote, work alongside men, and only recently have permission to drive a car (albeit with restrictions).
In a bold show of independence, Al Hagan – who comes from an Egyptian family – decided to walk through the streets wearing an elaborate wedding dress, but without a husband by her side. Her “wedding” was a celebration of her productive single life, attended by a crowd of close friends who cheered the idea. They maintain steadfast in the face of negative social media commentary that since her actions are not religiously forbidden and cause no one harm, her groomless wedding march was neither controversial nor wrong.
“I’m rewarding myself for my hard work,” Al-Hagan said in an interview with Al-Nahar TV. “I live by the motto: ‘Reward yourself after a long productive day’. I haven’t rewarded myself in a long time, so I decided to do so in a unique way.”
“A dress is not necessarily a representation of happiness,” Al Hagan said. “Countless women wore dresses and then ended up being divorced.” She explained that she wanted the “Bride-zilla” experience of being beautifully dresses and the focus of admiration and attention while sending a message to people that “happiness has no limits.”
Her photographer friend Mohammed Essam volunteered to record the big day. “When she told me about the idea, I was surprised at first but then I said ‘if you’re crazy, I’m crazier so let’s do it’ and we did the photoshoot,” he told Arab News.
Onlookers did wonder where the groom was, and the friends playfully advised that he was occuppied in a toilet. Al Hagan stressed that she “couldn’t care less what people think,” and instead is spreading a message to single women everywhere to care about themselves and their own happiness.
Essam defended his rebellious friend, saying, “What’s the big deal? The only difference is that she wore a white dress. No one would bat an eye if she wore a red dress and took a photoshoot. Color is the only difference.”
Al Hagan admits her family was not thrilled. “I did what I did despite my family’s objection. I’m an independent woman and have always made my own decisions,” she said.
According to a study quoted by the Egypt Independent, the average age of marriage in Egypt is 20 for women and 26 for men.
(Courtesy: Green Prophet)