Women marriage chancellors stepping into a man’s world

Friday 21/08/2015
Tahrir Hamad (L), the first Palestinian woman justice of the peace, performs marriage ceremony in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on August 6, 2015.

Cairo - A bridegroom once laughed hysterically when he discovered that the marriage registration official was a woman, not a man. Another time, the fam­ily of the bridegroom cracked jokes aimed at the female official.
Nonetheless, Egypt’s first female marriage registration official has never despaired. Amal Afifi knows that she has the right to tread into realms monopolised by men for hundreds of years in this predomi­nantly Muslim country.
Appointed in 2008 as Egypt’s first female marriage registration official, known in Arabic as maazouna, Afifi still struggles for recognition.
“Some people are totally opposed to the notion of a woman registering marriages,” she said. “They think that marriage registration can only be done by men.”
This is exactly how it’s thought of.
Being a woman undertaking what is traditionally a man’s job, such as maazouna, is an uneasy task in the Arab world. In much of the region’s patriarchal societies, women are confined to household chores, such as cooking, cleaning and raising children, while men have the final say in all family matters.
In Jordan, a moderate state ruled by progressive and Western-edu­cated royals, women hold senior public posts. For example, there are women cabinet ministers, lawmak­ers, ambassadors, judges, traffic po­lice and servicewomen, air force and commercial airline pilots.
But there are no maazounas, evidently to spare Jordan’s royalty, which claims ancestry to Prophet Mohammad, sensitivities with the country’s ultra-orthodox religious circles as such posts are confined to distinguished males in the society.
Of all the region, there are women maazounas only in North Africa’s Egypt and Tunisia and in the Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi. Recently, Pal­estinians appointed their first wom­an marriage officer in Tahrir Hamad, 33, who is already pointing to “cul­tural snags”.
“There’s nothing in the religion that bars women from holding such a post,” Hamad told The Arab Week­ly in a telephone interview from Jor­dan.
“The only obstacles are the cul­tural snags and taboos imposed by our patriarchal society”, added the master’s graduate in Islamic law who dedicated much of the last dec­ade to theology studies.
Since her July 29th appointment as maazouna, she said she had per­formed 13 marriages through August 12th. She’s also had five refusals.
“The grooms said they don’t want a woman marrying them,” Hamad said.
In Egypt, Afifi has performed 2,400 marriages. But there was some comedy. Traditionally, the bride’s family picks the marriage registra­tion official in Egypt. When Afifi appears, however, the encounter is anything but predictable. Once, a groom and his family, after burst­ing into laughter, insisted on having photos taken with the maazouna, forgetting the bride, her parents, family and other guests.
“They all left the bride and her family behind and focused most of their attention on me,” Afifi said, laughing. Islam does not prohibit women to work in marriage registra­tion, according to Islamic philoso­phy Professor Amna Nossier.
“Marriage registration is about pa­perwork and documentation, noth­ing else,” Nossier said. “It can be done by either a man or a woman.”
Yet some men, such as Ahmed Mustafa, a day labourer from the southern province of Assiut, refuse the presence of a woman during marriage rituals.
“The meeting is only between men. A woman cannot be part of it, in line with the traditions,” Mustafa said. He was referring to prevailing customs in conservative circles in which a male cleric docu­ments a marriage attended only by a male representative of the bride, the groom and two adult male wit­nesses.
Intessar Amr, a university gradu­ate from the Greater Cairo province of Qalubia, said she preferred a woman to document her marriage.
“The world is changing,” she in­sisted.
Islam Amir, head of the independ­ent male-dominated Marriage Reg­istration Officials Union, told a local newspaper recently that marriage registration is a man’s, not a wom­an’s, job. He said Afifi’s appointment was the outcome of pressure ex­erted by the wife of Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak.
Suzanne Mubarak actively lob­bied for women’s empowerment in Egypt. She was said to have been behind the appointment of Egypt’s first female judge in 2003 and also women ministers in Mubarak’s cabi­nets. When Afifi was given the job in 2008, she was the only woman maazouna, in Egypt. Now, there are 20 women maazounas in the coun­try. The emergence of female mar­riage registration officials seeped out of real life and into TV drama in Egypt.
A TV serial, Nouna, the Marriage Registration Official, depicts the struggle of a female marriage regis­tration official for recognition. The programme is comic in nature but it delves deeply into the suffering Egyptian women sustain when they do jobs generally reserved for men.