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Monday, 31 December, 2001, 15:54 GMT
Saudi women advise on marriage crisis
Saudi women
Women have no political rights in Saudi Arabia
A Saudi Arabian all-male advisory council has taken the rare step of inviting women to discuss the spiralling cost of marriage dowries.

It comes amid concerns that money demanded by the parents of prospective brides are prohibitively high, leaving many Saudi couples unable to get married.

Reports say there are as many as 1.5 million spinsters out of a population of 22 million.

The dowries - a traditional Arabic custom - have soared to as much as 200,000 riyals ($50,000), which many young men cannot afford.

Despite its reputation as an oil-rich kingdom, unemployment is as high as 30% and poverty is rising.

Now the Saudi Consultative Council - which was established by King Fahd as part of a package of reforms after the Gulf War - has asked 50 female academics to debate the problem.

The council has no legislative powers but can make recommendations to the government.

The involvement of women in such a forum is an unusual move for the ultra-conservative state, where women have no official political, or even advisory, power.

However, in accordance with sharia - religious law - the female academics will not be allowed to sit in the same chamber as the men but will take part in discussions via closed-circuit television.

Government help

Saudi Arabia is not the only country in its region to suffer from this problem.

In the neighbouring United Arab Emirates, the government has established a fund to help young men of limited means with wedding and dowry costs.

It also organises collective weddings for couples who cannot afford their own receptions.

See also:

10 Dec 01 | Middle East
Saudi women get identity cards
17 Mar 00 | Middle East
Amnesty demands Saudi probe
28 Mar 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Saudi rough justice
31 Mar 00 | Middle East
Saudi Arabia denies rights abuses
27 Sep 00 | Middle East
Amnesty raps Saudis over women's rights
04 Oct 99 | Middle East
Saudi women taste public life
21 Sep 98 | Middle East
Saudi women get down to business
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