Yemenis - Marriage and Family



Marriage. Islamic law and custom guide contemporary Yemeni marriages, although government regulations establishing ceilings on bride-price are often ignored. The legal marriage age of 16 for girls is also difficult to regulate because births are not routinely recorded. Arranged marriages prevail, but women do have veto power over a prospective groom. Fewer than 5 percent of Yemeni males exercise their option as Muslims to have up to four wives. The difficulty of supporting multiple wives equitably, as Islamic law requires, as well as the high cost of getting married, probably discourages polygyny. Divorce can be accomplished by men with far fewer restrictions than are imposed on women. Customarily, wives (through fathers or brothers) must remunerate their husbands if they wish to terminate the marriage. Legally, fathers' rights to the children after divorce supersede those of mothers.

Domestic Unit. Women preside over the work of the household, which may be comprised of blood relatives, neighbors, and members of client or servant groups in families of high social status. Women are valued members of the household unit as agricultural producers and are also crucial to the maintenance of the Yemeni ideal of domestic hospitality.

Inheritance. Landownership is concentrated within the dominant patrilineages, the result both of inheritance practices and marital strategies. Under Islamic rules, a woman's inheritance is only half that of her brother. In Yemen, women often do not renounce their claims of ownership. Thus the ideal marriage between patrilateral cousins would ensure that land remains within the patrilineage. Similarly, marriage to an outsider encourages the renunciation of claims to land that is too far away to farm.

Socialization. In Yemeni society, the responsibilities of child care are willingly assumed by many others besides the mother, including older children and grandmothers. Once children are able to walk, they freely roam their village, observing the activities of any household. Physical punishment is reserved for more severe infractions, but mothers have ingenious ways of getting their children's attention.


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