Photographed by Futoon Qusairy
Words by Karam Shalabi
This article is part of the “Marriage & Weddings” issue.

Arab societies live, to varying extents, under patriarchal regimes that operate even when not explicitly so.  They are governed by norms and traditions that favor the authority of men over women, which influence the thinking of the majority and shape the dreams, plans, and personal expression of the individual. This then reproduces gender norms and the narrative that these roles are central to society. What might have been subjective becomes a factual reality that reigns over us all, and evident in the frightening stories and cases of female oppression cases that are gaining increasing public exposure. 

We see a clear absence of purposeful, civilized common dialogue that engages all members of society on this topic. This is in spite of the growing number of feminist movements, associations, and organizations that work to raise awareness of women’s issues, combat violence against women and oppression, and empower the communities they serve. The absence of common dialogue complicates already sensitive topics, cultivating fear and widening the gap between groups affected. 

Direct discussion of women’s issues in the context of customs, traditions, and laws will hopefully create a platform to sustain dialogue and further assert just demands of girls and women while also preserving social integrity and family relationships. “Marira”, a project that presents real-life stories of girls interviewed in the city of Irbid located in northern Jordan, aims to translate these known but yet unacknowledged experiences and stories to challenge oppressive traditions and call for women’s empowerment in their local context. 

Sharing stories is part of a collective effort carried out by strong female advocates around the Arab world who seek to overcome silencing and disregarding of female voices. Below is a sample of stories of the girls we serve, about their relationship with their families and the topic of marriage in particular. Though the details of these stories differ, they reflect common and shared experiences that many women face in their lifetime. Hopefully, women might build on these common factors apparent in stories like these to engage in meaningful, sustained, and productive dialogue, that might help them think through and around the patriarchal logic that surrounds them.

Photographed by Futoon Qusairy



Zaina and Ala’a had a romantic relationship that lasted for 7 years. Once Ala’a finished his university degree and secured a job, he went to ask for Zaina’s hand for marriage. Her father rejected his proposal, because in his opinion, Zaina was not allowed to choose who her life partner is. Zaina, who had been waiting for this moment for years, fell into a state of severe depression, and was forced to take antipsychotic drugs for three years to cope with the sense of loss that moment caused.

Have you been forced into getting married?
Soon after my father rejected Alaa’s proposal, I was pressured into marrying another man

How were you forced into getting married?
After turning down a few marriage proposals, my brothers started to raise suspensions that I was still in a relationship with Alaa. The truth is I was not in a relationship with Alaa anymore, but I was not able to move on just yet. After a few fights and threats from my brothers, I was pressured into accepting who overcomes next to ask for my hand

What methods were used to compel you into this marriage?
My brothers threatened to cause severe harm to Alaa as they still think that the only reason I refuse to get married is that I was still in a relationship with him. They also took my phone away to look for any evidence that I was trying to keep in touch with Alaa. Moreover, even in the rare occasion when they let me leave the house, they watch where I go and what I do to make sure I don’t get any chance of meeting with Alaa.

Was there any objection to this marriage from any of your family members? If so, why?
No, everyone blessed the idea of me getting married, even my mother. There was no one other than my girlfriend standing by my side because she was the only one who knew exactly how much I loved Alaa.

Has your family made you feel pressure after you got married? For example, have you felt pressured to have kids right away?
No, my family did not voice any opening in my personal life after getting married. However, my mother in law has this subtle way of pressuring her son into having a kid as soon as possible.

Having been married to a man who you haven’t had the chance to know very well before you both got married, how would you describe the first few months of that marriage?
Actually, a few days ago was our anniversary. We have our share of fights and disagreement. I will be honest here, sometime after getting into a fight with my husband I wish I could talk to Alaa and share with him what I go through, we haven’t been in touch since the day my father stopped our relationship, but it would be nice to hear about how he is doing.

What kind of marital problems have you faced in this marriage?
The main problem I had to face was accepting the idea of getting married to someone who is a complete stranger to me. It was very difficult for me to picture him as my husband. At times, it was hard for me to let him be intimate with me, and to be completely honest, I still find it challenging sometimes to accept some of his attributes.


Photographed by Futoon Qusairy 


Duaa is a divorced mother with two children, who is still dreaming of finishing her education. In 2017, Duaa and her family fled to Jordan running away from the devastating aftermath of the Syrian conflict. She is one of eight family members sharing a small apartment and living in a difficult financial situation. Because of this, Duaa (who was 15 at the time) was forced into marrying a 40 years old man who offered her family a large sum of money in return. 


Have you been forced into getting married?
I did not want to get married, but my parents convinced me that it was a good idea.

How were you forced into this marriage?
It was nothing special, my father informed me that I was getting married. I had no opinion regarding that decision.

What methods were used to compel you into getting married?
“This marriage is good for you, for our family, and especially good for your little siblings.” My father tried to convince me using those words. I’ve always tried to express my desire to finish my education and to go to school like many of the girls my age do. Crying was the only way to express what I was feeling. But, my father used to verbally and physically abuse me and my mother, so eventually, I accepted marrying this man to avoid facing such abuse and its lasting effect on us.

Was there any objection to this marriage from any of your family members? If so, why?
Definitely. I believe my mother did not agree with this marriage idea. Her eyes said what words couldn’t even express, but she was too afraid to voice her objection. And, my little siblings did not want me to leave the house just yet.

After being forced into this marriage, did either side of both families try to interfere further into your personal life? Did you feel pressure to get pregnant for example?
My ex-husband’s family pressured me to get pregnant right away. I was terrified of that idea, I was very young and knew nothing about pregnancy and becoming a mother.

How would you describe your marital relationship after the first few months?
One of the problems I struggled with was how much older he was than I. He was the same age as my father, and sometimes, I felt the need to address him as “uncle” instead of “husband”. I had no previous knowledge about how to be in a marital relationship, especially when it comes to being intimate with a man. I would get frightened every time he gets physically close to me, and I wish if the ground would swallow me up; I was not able to imagine him as my life partner.

What other kinds of marital problems did you face? What do you think was the reason for this marriage to fail?
He used to spend long hours outside of our home, and drop me off at his parents house every time he wants to spend some time with his friends. I never felt safe around his family and his mother treated me unfairly. After having my first child, he started to assault me physically, and my father did not support or help me to move back home to be with my family. After having my second child, he left me and his two children and never heard from him since.


Photographed by Futoon Qusairy


Mona accepted to be a part of an arranged marriage as she feared to miss the “marriage train” at the age of 26, after hearing the word ‘spinster’ more times than she could remember and seeing many of her peers already on board.Although she did not feel comfortable marrying (Kareem), she prepared for her wedding day with joy and enthusiasm. Sadly, those feelings did not last long, and she was relegated to a position of “sex object and cooking machine”.


Have you been forced into getting married?
I have always felt the pressure to get married as I was growing older, most of my friends who are the same age as I am were already married and have children of their own. When Kareem proposed to me, I did not see myself getting married to him. However, my mother and aunts kept on pressuring me towards accepting him as my husband and I started to feel that I might not get another chance to get married if I pass on this strange guy named “Kareem”.

What forced you to accept the idea of getting married to him?
I would not use the word “forced”. I would instead say that I was tempted by the idea of Kareem as a person. He is an independent man who owns a house and has a very good job, he wanted us to get married in a fancy hotel in Amman (capital city of Jordan) and then go to Thailand for our honeymoon, and it’s been a dream of mine to travel somewhere new. Preparing for my wedding was all I can think about during that time.

Was there any objection to this marriage from any of your family members? If so, why?
My older sister objected. She was already married and has three children, and she kept on telling me why “Why are you in a rush to get married?” And “you still have plenty of time, don’t decide on this that quickly.”

Did either side of both families try to interfere further into your personal life after getting married?
I have always felt pressured to get pregnant right after I got married. I did not get pregnant for almost a year, and after all of that pressure from my in-laws, I decided to go see a gynecologist to make sure there was nothing wrong preventing my pregnancy. Alhamdulillah there was nothing wrong, and soon after that I got pregnant and now I have a beastly two years old daughter. They still pressure me every now and then and want to get pregnant again soon.

How would you describe your marital relationship after the first few months?
I would say the first few months of our marriage were full of happy moments, especially the night of our wedding, it was a beautiful moment to share with Kareem who did not feel like a stranger to me anymore. He made me feel special and I imagined our life would be filled with lovely moments to share together. However, now we barely feel connected with each other anymore.

What kind of marital problem did you face? Did your marriage fail?”
My main problem with Kareem is that he spends most of his time playing cards with his friends until a very late hour at night. He leaves me alone with our daughter which makes me feel more as a housekeeper rather than his wife. I thought of divorcing him several times, but what would be the reason that I tell people around me? That I don’t feel like I’m his housekeep rather than wife? They would respond with the same answer I expect anyway: “He spends most of his day time working hard to provide for you and your daughter”. I don’t believe that this is how life should be lived at all.


Photographed by Futoon Qusairy