It is estimated that Mary Mother of Jesus was twelve years old when she was betrothed to Joseph. She could have been between 13 to 14 years when she gave birth to Jesus Christ. Mary, probably the most hailed woman in all religious custom is most praised for being a virgin when the angel gave her Good News.
It is more than 2000 years since then [Is anyone still counting or do we just say 2000?] and girls are no longer being hailed for being virgins at 13. It is also about three centuries since girls began to attend public schools in the Western world. Here in Uganda, it is 73 years since Makerere College (University) admitted the first Ugandan women to university. However, even in the seventies when my mother was starting school, her father still had to defend his decision to send his girls to school instead of marrying them off or having them help him on his farm.
Today it is obvious that both female and male children should obtain an education. But in some societies, there is still a huge resistance to educating girls. Girls have been kidnapped and forced into early marriages or shot in the head like Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan for refusing to stop attending school. Because in societies like that, education is believed to be the link to moral perversion. Girls are married off before they are adults to protect their ‘honour’.
On the other side of the coin, in societies where women are not being forced or coerced into marriage at an early age, the lines are blurry about how long a relationship should continue before marriage. For example; Is it okay to date forever? Can you be sort of married and sort of still living with your parents?
Caught between two places, many women find that they cannot leave home without a ceremony, for it is taboo to do this and at the same time, they do not have enough time to play wife to an almost-husband. They are neither at home nor at boyfriend’s house. They make an appearance here and an appearance there. And society chastises them for not inspiring their men to promote them from girlfriend to wife.
So at an early adult stage today, many are trapped between modernity and culture, formally single and informally married with a lot of parents still not free to talk to their children about all the facets of marriage except in coded language and parables.