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Yasser Abu Moailek's Letter From Gaza

Yasser Abu Moailek's Letter From Gaza

Employed women find more suitors in Gaza

Letter From Gaza -- Hani Wafi is almost 27 years old. He lives in a modest house in Gaza City with his mother and four siblings. He has a decent job as a public relations officer at a respected advertisement agency.

Sitting in a corner of their house's small living room, Hani and his mother talked about the next logical step in his Gazan lifestyle: marriage.

Though not a big believer in arranged marriages - which had always been his mother's plan for him - Hani finally found himself softening to the idea after having tried but failed to meet on his own a woman who "convinced" him.

"I have tried to find a wife on my own - someone who rises to my expectations, but I never found that person," Hani said, adding that resorting to his mother's help had good reasons behind it, after all.

"My mother knows most of the girls in our neighborhood, so surely she can find someone suitable for me. The most important thing is for her to be employed," Hani said.

That Hani's primary prerequisite in a wife is her employment status is not unusual in the Gaza Strip these days. What with Gaza's staggering unemployment rate of almost 60 percent and the ever-increasing costs of weddings, most of Gaza's single men have come to favor employment over compatibility and even love.

Hassan Bassiouni, a professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza, explained that for someone at the beginning of his career, saving several thousand dollars for a wedding and managing to provide for a family afterward was almost impossible.

"In a society where the man is expected to buy a house, have a steady income and bring a dowry of up to several thousand dollars to the wedding table, starting a life afterward is almost impossible if only one salary flows into the house," Bassiouni said.

Although some Muslim sheikhs have called for a sharp reduction in dowry levels, that solves only part of the problem. The Israeli lockdown of Gaza, the destruction of the economic infrastructure and the scarcity of lucrative working opportunities in Israel have sharply diminished men's capability to marry.

Qassem Jibril, owner of Jibril Wedding Hall in Gaza City, is proof. Normally he would have more than 100 weddings booked by May, running through late August. But last month he had just eight.

"Grooms who used to spend $1,500 for the hall, dinner, a cake, flowers and a band now make do on a $300 bare-bones plan without food or live music," said Jibril. "It's the worst we've ever seen during a half-century in the business," he added.

In light of rising unemployment and the low wages offered in the Palestinian territories, Gazan families have begun urging their daughters - especially those who are university graduates - to find jobs. This created a new trend in the Gaza Strip - the working woman.

The trend soon grew, with the help of the dire economic conditions, into simple common sense. And these employed women were attracting more and more young suitors who wished to relieve part of their own financial burdens.

"A wife with a steady paycheck can help cover living costs while I repay some of the loans I took with my own salary. This way I don't have as many worries on my head as with a non-working wife," said 29-year-old Khalil Motaweh, an unemployed accountant who now spends his days hanging out at his brother's struggling taxi company.

But according to psychiatrist Moaweyya Abu Ghazala, in some rare cases, dependence on a wife's salary can lead a husband into exploiting this "advantage", especially if the wife is getting a "fat" paycheck.

In one such case the wife was earning $1,500 per month from working at a UN agency, Abu Ghazala said. "The husband's salary was meager and his job was exhausting, so eventually he quit it and became dependent on her to fulfill the family's needs," he added.

Two weeks after discussions with his mother, Hani Wafi and his future wife, Myassar, a teacher at a UN-operated school in Gaza, were looking sheepishly at each other across the coffee shop table and giggling, wondering how two educated persons like themselves could have ended up in planning a pre-arranged wedding.

"If it wasn't for the financial situation, we probably wouldn't have met," said Hani. "But I have a good feeling about Myassar and I believe we might have liked each other even if we had met by coincidence."

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