By: Susan Ironsi (12-09-15)
The phenomenon of women marrying late in life is growing in the society and the status ‘matured single woman’ is becoming one that is proudly acceptable among Nigerian women. Should they cave in to family, cultural or religious pressure when it comes to marriage? Suzan Ironsi, Abuja, writes
Marriage is an important aspect of the Nigerian culture and it is at the centre of the society. An important tradition which often, after an expensive engagement and wedding, is what couples look forward to. Nollywood movies often depict marriages as the core of story lines, where the relationship between the lead male and female characters, typically execute a script where incompatibility issues are resolved and the silver lining through it all is the fairy tale union where the both live happily ever after. Though, in reality, many women choose their partners as a matter of personal decision, notwithstanding any influence from relatives and friends. Nevertheless, with current economic and societal issues, should it matter if a perceived growing number of women are thought to be marrying a bit later in their lives and is age the real issue?
LEADERSHIP Weekend interviewed women across divides, and some of them responded with their views on marriage and the influence of age.
For Judith Mbah, a student at the University of Lagos, she said she hesitates to think about marriage despite the pressure from her mother. “I am just 20 years old and my mother already wants to know if I have someone. I told her to leave me alone because I think I am too young and should be thinking of more important things like furthering my education and earning an honest living. I hear of so many marriages breaking up in Nigeria now like in the western countries. So being married is not a guarantee that you will stay married for long,” she said.
For Madam Yemisi, a business woman, she is adamant that patience and God helped her choose the right partner. She said, “I’m an entrepreneur and I gained many of my achievements after I met my husband. We’ve been together for four years. I met him at the age of 29 and I had our twins last year. My business is doing well and as a family, my husband and I can live comfortably, which makes me happy.”
However, 33-year-old Mary Bassey said, “even though it is every woman’s dream, you have to be ready and if you have big dreams like I do, you need a confident man by your side; one that will not feel threatened by your success. It is also left to you not to allow people to pressure you. There are enough miserable married women; some so desperate to join the club. I recently read about a woman who has become a punching bag, and in this age, nobody match-makes anyone when it comes to marriage out of fear of the unknown, so I will wait.”
A clinical psychologist, Dr Aroyewun Afolabi, expressed that the phenomenon of Nigerian women marrying later than was obtained in the past is an issue for concern because of the underlying reason why women stay single. “In my practice, I see married women and single mothers who have been abused by the people who should love them. There are also young girls with depression, and unmarried mature ladies who are trying to understand themselves, in the hopes of getting married. Culture is not helping and neither is religion. Cultural pressure to get married often leads some of these women to make clumsy decisions, especially in the desire to match societal expectations.”
However, Mr Ustaz Abdulfattah Adeyemi, the director of Baynakum Family Counseling Centre explained that for many young Nigerian women, their desire is to address their goals such as obtaining career satisfaction or taking the time to meet a suitor who meets their standards. Hence, the associated delays in achieving these goals have left some females open to marrying later in life. “Nigerian women are now marrying at an older age and it’s possibly because young people are feeling less, the rush to marry due to general acceptance of premarital sex, cohabitation, birth control and the desire to put their finances in place. Thirty years ago, young adults’ paths were often predetermined by role expectations, family expectations and clearer gender expectations. The tradition of psychologically preparing a girl for a wifely role in marriage and preparing the boy to be responsible for same are going out of fashion.”
Mr Adeyemi is opposed to the school of thought that society does not encourage a woman to reach her full potential once married. “Young women are the worst-hit by the problems associated with growing up, maturing and the natural urge to be loved; they have no set goals that they want the society to help them structure or nurture. They need help in seeing a bigger picture in terms of how they fit into the world and their relationships with others, as well as clear-cut expectations of their roles.”
While both contentions may be representative of a selection of women in the country, it is not enough to paint a holistic picture on an issue that outwardly cuts across religious and ethnic lines. For this reason, a social consultant, counsellor and matchmaker, Jerome Yaovi Onipede, viewed that existing expectations from Nigerian women to attain the role of a wife, at any age, should not be the target. He said, “Women will always be anxious to get married because we live in a society that puts pressure on them to do so. Right from inception, a young girl’s home-training always leads to what she needs to know to be successful in her marriage. She’s told to cook right, not so she can enjoy the meal but so that her husband can always eat at home. “I believe we are really short-changing ourselves not realising that women have original ideas they can bring to the table – providing the missing links that can make our society a better place – when we allow them to express who and what they really are as valuable members of the society,” he stated.
For one Mrs Okon who has been married for 25 years, “my advice to single ladies is that they should not rush into marriage. I’m talking from experience as I was pressurised into marriage when I was 28 years old and I’m now paying for it. The people who pressured me are not suffering with me now and it is a nightmare. In my case, I explored all avenues to get out of it but couldn’t because of my children. Now, I live in his house and that’s it.”
On her part, Dr Hannatu Musa, who explained that she is in her twenties said, “Most of the men I have met have insecurity and ego issues. Where I am from, a man feels you should be despondent before you are a satisfactory wife. They, in their obliviousness, quote scriptures that talk about a woman’s worth being in her husband’s house, as the keeper of the home. It’s tough for them to imagine that I would want to be a wife, mother and still give back to the society through my work.”
With an outlook of caution and wariness, women accept that the decision to marry requires work, compromise and commitment. However, is this a sufficient recipe for contentment? Dr Afolabi explained that society plays a role in the delemma of late marriages, we are all a product of our culture, which has changed. “Now, we are in a state of ambivalence. So many people are caught up between our traditional culture and the influences of western culture. About 10 to 12 per cent of the clients I see are single and mature ladies and ready to have kids but not interested in marriage. They represent a growing demography of women, a possible product of this ambivalence. In contrast to this, there are more women whose focus is on achieving the best for themselves, to achieve occupational satisfaction and get married. And when they aren’t satisfied, they get out, leading to the increasing divorce and separation rates in the country.”
He added that it needn’t be a question of age because women ultimately need to be ready to give to another person. He explained that as a woman, there is the need for self-acceptance, where a woman understands her perfection, personality and decides what her life expectations are. The belief is that, if this is achieved, then women must be ready to make it work, and be prepared to adjust. He stated that irrespective of the perceived fear of failure and in spite of age, a young lady needs to understand that child-bearing and child-rearing will be a priority when she gets married and her career will most likely be relegated to a secondary need.
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