Let Us Pray for the Unmarried Ones
Growing up, I had an aunt, a distant relative of my Dad who I first got to know through our morning devotional prayers. My Dad would always bring up her name during prayers, he would
Growing up, I had an aunt, a distant relative of my Dad who I first got to know through our morning devotional prayers. My Dad would always bring up her name during prayers, he would say “let us pray for Aunt Ann, that God will give her a husband, and remove shame from her face.” By the time I grew up and met this Aunt Ann I already felt an intense pity and sorry for her shame. Everyone around me said it was because she was too educated, (she had a PhD) that is why no man wanted to marry her. She was one of the few women, who were senior staff in a huge government company, but I didn’t know of all this, all I knew was that she carried shame because she was unmarried.
Societal shaming of unmarried women is common all over the world, from Africa to the Middle East, to Asia and the West, in varying degrees. There are so many terms, most of which are derogatory used to describe an unmarried woman. In China, women who are unmarried at 27 are called ‘left over women.’ A man unmarried at 27 is not tagged anything. People will chalk it up to “he hasn’t found a woman he loves” or the usual “boys will be boys.”
In countries still neck deep in patriarchy there is no chance for an unmarried woman. It doesn’t matter what the woman has achieved in life, it all boils down to her marital status. There are hotels in Lagos, one of the biggest cities in West Africa that do not allow women into their bars unaccompanied by men. There are landlords who do not rent to unmarried women. The reason they give for this is to curb prostitution.
There is a general well meaning pity society serves to unmarried women. Even in the church, unmarried women are not allowed to join certain women’s organizations. Take the Catholic Church in Nigeria for example; the national body for women, Catholic Women’s Organization does not admit unmarried women into its fold. The value of a woman is determined by her marital status.
It is no wonder our women rush into and stay in bad relationships.
Girls are groomed for men while men are groomed to be men. Girls are told if you don’t learn how to cook who will cook for your husband? But boys, the handful taught to cook is so they can take care of themselves. Girls are expected to be good home makers, child bearers, to excel in their education and jobs to be in good standing with their God. Girls are taught to shrink themselves, to excel but not too much, to chase a dream but not a big one so as not to scare men away.
Modern women are fighting back against this narrative, breaking barriers one day at a time. Girls are reaching for the sky without a backward glance.
In the words of the Nigerian poet Ijeoma Umebinyuo, ‘Nobody warned you that the women whose feet you cut from running would give birth to daughters with wings.’
I would later learn that my Aunt Ann succumbed to pressure and got married to one of the managers of the company where she worked. When the husband felt threatened by her success and treated her badly, she ignored advice from older women who said ‘marriage is endurance, it is better to be in a bad marriage than to be single’. She waltzed out of the marriage, rented a flat, adopted a baby and began to teach in a small university in the southern part of Nigeria.
Feature Image courtesy of Lionheart