Great expectations: Society’s pressure on women to marry

By Flora Aduk

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Our contributor shares some insight into being over 30 and unmarried, in a society where many women marry before they have even reached adulthood.

“What is he saying?” my Grandmother asked almost timidly one Sunday afternoon. I chewed the food in my mouth, swallowed, slowly stared at her and responded with a question. “What do you mean what is he saying?!” I tried to be tactile, but the discomfort and slight harshness in my voice couldn’t be missed.

But she wasn’t one to give up. “Won Kiki (father of Kiki), what are the plans for marriage?” she said. From her tone I could tell that she was trying to be polite as she made reference to the father of my eight year old daughter, but I wasn’t having any of it. I dismissed her with, “I will tell you when the time is right.”

She continued to push me by making me feel guilty. “You are always rather rude when I bring up this topic…” I just laughed sarcastically and told her that she ought to be patient.  But this was no laughing matter. In a society where in the past, women were expected to get married as early as 13, even in this modern age it is still hard to fathom a woman unmarried well into her 30s.

This image is taken at a traditional marriage, where the grooms kin bring gifts and bride price, in an elaborate ceremony where cultural celebration rituals take center stage.

This image is taken at a traditional marriage, where the grooms kin bring gifts and bride price, in an elaborate ceremony where cultural celebration rituals take center stage.

Uganda still holds alarming statistics of child marriages, as awareness group Girls Not Brides points out in their partnership campaigning . A UNICEF Social Development report revealed that Uganda falls within the top 15 African countries in childhood marriage statistics,  with a staggering 46% of women marrying before the age of 18, compared to the African average of 39%.

Although a lot of the statistics speak of the rural Uganda, as a 33 year old, living in an urban setting, the turn to my 30s still ushered in the “why aren’t you married” questions. Where it wasn’t always asked in spoken word, facial expressions always seemed to inquire into that part of my life, especially when I met old acquaintances.

In our society, marriage has come to define success and accomplishment. An unmarried woman despite her accomplishments doesn’t command as much respect as her married counterparts. Even so, today more women are delaying marriage for many different reasons.

I believe marriage is a valuable institution. I often thought I would be married by 25 but now as a single mother of two and way beyond my 20s, I’ve learnt that finding ‘the One’ and making the commitment doesn’t come that easy and that’s ok.

Nonetheless, as an unmarried woman, pressure from society (and biological clocks) can’t be escaped.  Having children takes off a bit of the internal pressure to get married, but there is no saving from the external pressure.

Women are under constant pressure to fulfil this pre-destined role of the ‘married woman.’  It is therefore not uncommon to find marriage at the top of the prayer request lists in Christian circles. Places of retreat and prayer such as Seguku Prayer Mountain, along Entebbe Road, are popular destinations for women seeking divine intervention for among other things, a worthy suitor. I haven’t been there yet, but a couple of friends make the trip every Friday and I have made a mental note to go pretty soon.

Women praying at Seguku Prayer Mountain, Uganda Image source: worldtrumpet.com

Women worshiping at Seguku Prayer Mountain, Uganda Image source: worldtrumpet.com

Some women have been known to pressure their partners to make a marital commitment, going as far as footing the bills for the traditional marriage, popularly known as kwanjula,  if only to do away with the “shame” of being unmarried. 

To maintain the status quo, some women are living in bad marriages.  In a popular women’s Facebook group, Beautiful Modern Mums, a three pronged approach is often volunteered as advice for marital problems- PFG, which basically stands for Pray, Fast and Guma (hang in there).

With the ring elusive for now, women like me have learnt that marriage does not define who you are, which is why we have focused our energies on other aspects particularly our careers. Single parenthood anywhere raises eyebrows; naturally society judges you, but today not as harshly as before.

I believe in building oneself and seeking happiness in things one is passionate about. So what if you are not married yet?

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