Modern Dowries: A Gulf Institution Changes with the Times
A new twist to an ancient custom.
December 7, 2010In Oman, brides traditionally spend the cash they receive for their dowry on gold jewelry. Now, many Omani women are choosing to invest their dowries in property instead. According to Khalid al-Kathiry, a mortgage officer at Oman Arab Bank, newly married women now constitute 33 percent of all mortgage applicants—up from twelve percent in 2005. The motivation is partly practical. Omani law requires that a woman leave her husband’s house in case of divorce.
In Saudi Arabia, where young people divorce almost as commonly as they marry, many Saudi women are turning the marriage contract on its head. Whereas traditional brides could count on large dowries upon marriage but small settlements in case of divorce, modern brides often seek wedding contracts with a smaller upfront payments and larger divorce settlements. Assuming honorable intentions, the modern trend also benefits the groom, by reducing financial barriers to marriage.
Two groups have taken offense at the current trend. Conservatives worry that altering dowry patterns threatens traditional gender roles in marriage. Even more affected are the gold sellers. Adel Sadiq, a gold merchant in Muscat, claims sales of bridal gold are down 20 percent since 2005.
This piece is a part of Mezze, a monthly short article series spotlighting societal trends across the region. It originally appeared in the Middle East Program's monthly newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment. For more information and to receive our mailings, please contact the Middle East Program.