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European Journal of Social Sciences Volume 8, Number 3 (2009)

Understanding Singlehood from the Experiences of Never-Married Malay Muslim Women in Malaysia: Some Preliminary Findings
Rozita Ibrahim Centre for General Studies National University of Malaysia (UKM), Malaysia E-mail: Zaharah Hassan Centre for General Studies National University of Malaysia (UKM), Malaysia E-mail: Abstract The experience of singlehood can be similar across diverse culture while at the same time varies due to religious and cultural multiplicity. Also, the word single can refer to various categories that comprise of the ever-married (widows, divorced and separated women) and the never-married (older and younger, with or without children, cohabiting, living with parents, siblings, strangers or living alone). In this paper, single refers to never-married women over the age of 30. What we present here is based on preliminary findings from an ongoing research focussing on the experiences of singlehood amongst Malay Muslim women in Malaysia based on in-depth interviews with three single women. The interviews were done separately and each women share their experiences and reflections on being single, within the context of familial society where womanhood is defined by being heterosexual, married and having children. Drawing upon their experiences and reflections, we conclude that (1) the notion of jodoh (soul-mate as fated by God at the perfect timing) is central in explaining their reasons for being single, (2) single women are aware of their stigmatised status and acknowledge feelings of inadequacy, (3) family members and friends are important as their social support system, and finally (4) singleness is also seen in positive light as opportunity towards self-enhancement. We hope that this paper will contribute to the existing literature on cross-cultural understanding of singlehood. Keywords: Malay Muslim, Malaysia, never-married women, singlehood.

1. Introduction

In Malaysian Malay society 1, singlehood especially among women is often discussed in popular discourses in the mass media2 . More often than not, unmarried women and their singleness are seen as

Malaysia is a multiethnic country with a total population of over 26 million. Major ethnic groups are Malays (50.3%), Chinese (23.8%), non-Malay indigenous people (11.0%) and Indians (7.1%). The official language is Bahasa Melayu. However other languages such as English, Chinese, Tamil and Punjabi are also spoken. The official religion is Islam which is practiced by about 60% of the population. The rest of the population practices other religions freely. It is also important to note that the Federal Constitution stipulated that Malays are by definition Muslims. (Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives East and Southeast Asia 2005. Center for Reproductive Rights, Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Center for Women).


European Journal of Social Sciences Volume 8, Number 3 (2009) a problem that needs to be rectified. Jones (2004) states that the announcement of the rising number of unmarried women in 2000 had prompted many lively debates by religious figures, Malaysian press as well as discussions at the parliament. This is also the case in late 2005 when Utusan Malaysia Online reports that 70% of unmarried Malaysian women are the professionals. The report attracts the concern of many people and leads to heated debate on how to solve the problems of single professional women and brought about the suggestions of allowing polygamy and misyar 3 marriages. The bottom line is marry single women off as they are seen as problem by certain segment of the society. These many interesting debates that often lack the voices of single women themselves catch our attention and make us want to study this phenomenon and to know who these single women are. What are the reasons for their singleness are they rejecting marriage or rejected by marriage? How do single women react to the pressures and stigma from the society? How do they live their single life? These are some of the questions that we seek to explore in this paper which aims to understand the meaning of singlehood from Malay Muslim perspective. In this regard, we agree with Darrington, Piercy & Niehuis (2005) argument that the meaning of singlehood is socially and culturally constructed and the best way to understand the meaning of being single is through the experiences of the singles themselves. Following symbolic interactionism perspective, single womens understanding of their singleness is very much influenced by her perception and interpretation as a member of a group or a society. In the context of this paper, single Malay Muslim womens understanding of singlehood is very much influenced by their membership to the Malay Muslim society. Also, we would argue for the temporal element whereby we suggest that the experiences of single women in contemporary period differ from the traditional times. In short, we hope that our paper will contribute to the understanding of singlehood across diverse cultures and religious multiplicity within the context of contemporary period.

2. Review of Literature
Comprehensive study on single women in Malaysia is only beginning to develop over the past few years. Earlier studies on single women that exist in Malaysian academic literature are scarce and mainly confined to population studies and expressed only in percentages over the bigger Malaysian population. Spreitzer & Riley (1974:533) argues that the scarcity of academic or scientific research on singlehood is due to the fact that there is no nomenclature with which to conceptualise the status of a person who never marry. On similar note, Cargan (1981:378) agrees that singleness is often regarded as a temporary period prior to or in between marriages and that marriage is the social norm. However, the trend in recent years shows that prolonged singleness is commonly happening especially amongst urban-based, highly educated and economically independent women (Maeda 2006, Sitomurang 2005, Byrne 2000, Salaff 1976). Similar trend is also apparent in the Muslim societies in South-East Asian countries where traditionally marriage happens at young age. Jones (2003) reports that until about three decades ago, the Malay-Muslim populations of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Southern Thailand were normally married by the age of 18. However, this trend is changing and there seems to be a general pattern of marriage delay in these countries. In the case of Malaysian Malay Muslims, the total percentage of never-married women over the age of 30 was 3.1% in 1960. The percentage later increased to 23.3% in 2000. The situation is more obvious in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia where the total of never married women was 37.8% in year 2000 (Table 1).

For instance, refer to Utusan Malaysia Online ( articles. Some of the headlines are Menyelesai masalah jodoh wanita profesional (Solving the problems of unmarried professional women) 02.12.2005; Izin poligami, kurang anak dara tua (Allow polygamy, less spinsters) 21.08.2005; Syor benarkan lelaki mengamalkan perkahwinan misyar (Suggestion to allow misyar marriages for men) 25.05.2006 Misyar marriage is a marriage arrangement where the husband is released from his responsibility to provide financially for his wife, with the consent of the wife. This arrangement is suggested for wealthy single women who can afford themselves financially but need a husband to fulfill their biological and sexual needs.


European Journal of Social Sciences Volume 8, Number 3 (2009)

Table 1: Trends in never-married Malay-Muslim women aged 30-34 to 45-49 from 1960 to 2000 (in % over total population) Adapted from Jones (2003)
30-34 35-39 40-44 45-49 Total 30-34 35-39 40-44 45-49 Total 1960 1.1 0.8 0.6 0.6 3.1 n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. 1970 3.3 1.9 1.1 0.7 7.0 6.9 3.7 2.1 1.7 14.4 1980 7.9 3.8 2.2 1.7 15.6 11.1 6.2 3.9 2.8 24 1990 10.2 5.8 4.1 2.3 22.4 n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. 2000 9.7 6.0 4.4 3.2 23.3 16.1 9.5 7.0 5.2 37.8

Peninsular Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur

What are the reasons for this trend in marriage postponement? Jones (1981) in his studies on Malay marriage and divorce from 1950s to late 1970s suggests that marriage postponement is a manifestation of social and economic changes experienced by the Malays. The major determining factor has been the change in educational policies which have resulted in higher proportions of Malays, especially females completing high schools and entering institutions of higher learning. Another important factor is the migration of Malay women to the cities to participate in the job market provided by newly opened factories and industries. These two factors, education and participation in job market remain relevant in discussing marriage postponement in the recent years4. More importantly is that, both education and participation in job market implicate on marriage decision in that they opened young womens eyes to new understanding of society and their place in it (Jones 2004:15). Therefore, it is our intention to contribute in exploring this new understanding from the perspectives of these single women. Before discussing further, it is important to note that the term single women refers to a heterogeneous population comprising of ever-married (widows, divorced and separated women) and never-married (older and younger, with or without children, cohabiting, living with parents, siblings, parents, strangers or living alone) (Byrne 2000). However, in the context of this paper, single women refer to the never-married women who past the normal marriageable age 5 or known as anak dara tua or andartu in Malay language. In English, andartu can be literally translated 6 to old virgin. It carries similar negative connotation as the word spinster and denotes failure and a mark of shame. This certainly does not represent our participants in this research who are highly educated and successful professional women. As such, we agree with De Paulo & Morris (2004) argument that the proper terminology must not be in reference to marriage because it will not reflect the autonomous and independent nature of the single women of recent times. Thus, in this paper, we would mostly use the neutral term - single women, with occasional usage of the terms unmarried women, never-married women and andartu where we have to do so. Also, in the context of Malay Muslim society, the definition of single women in our study agrees with Byrnes (2000) four definitional criteria of singleness which are (1) never-married, (2) over 30 of age, (3) not cohabiting, and (4) childless. This is

According to the statistics published in Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives East and Southeast Asia (2005) by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Center for Women (ARROW), in Malaysia the labor force participation of female is 39.4% for female and 35.7% for male. As for literacy rate among population aged 15 and older is 87% for female and 93% for male. In Malaysia, the average age at marriage for female is 23.5 while for male is 26.6. Under the Marriage and Divorce Act 1976, the minimum age for marriage for both male and female in Malaysia is 18 years old. (Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives East and Southeast Asia. 2005. Center for Reproductive Rights, AsianPacific Resource and Research Center for Women (ARROW)). In this paper, we choose to translate directly any Malay phrases to English language so that they will reflect the meanings of the original words in Bahasa Melayu. We hope this will provide some indication on Malay perspective in relating things and events and hence throw some light into the Malay world view and culture


European Journal of Social Sciences Volume 8, Number 3 (2009) the case because, sex outside marriage is forbidden for Muslims and thus never-married would also indicate non-cohabiting and childless or more precisely, never given birth hence without any biological child. The cut-off age of 30 is following Adamss (1976) suggestion that at this age most women are married and those women who remain single are on their way to achieving greater economic solidarity. Looking from biological point of view, at the age of 30, the level of fertility begins to dwindle hence decreasing the chances of motherhood. Thus, those women who are single are assumed to have made some decisions and reflections on their state of singleness and the definition of being a woman that might differ from the common notion of womanhood. This brings us to the centrality of marriage and family in defining womanhood. For the Malays, the sayings syurga letaknya di bawah tapak kaki ibu (literally translated as heaven lies under a mothers feet) and sebijak mana pun perempuan itu, tempatnya tetap di dapur (literally translated as regardless of how smart a woman is, her rightful place remains the kitchen) are only but two examples that illustrate the importance of domesticity for a woman and the high status granted to a mother. However this is not unique for the Malay society only, rather it is apparent in other societies that emphasis family as the basic unit that builds a society. Byrne (2000:xiv) defines familism as an ideology in which the marital family is treated as a social, cultural, political, economic and affective unit which is antithetical to individualism or the realisation of autonomy for its female and child members, which is regarded as the key to achieving the status of full personhood. She further explains that to claim womanhood, one has to demonstrate to others that she can sexually attracts a man, form an intimate, enduring, exclusive, marital relationship with him, and that she can reproduce and care for the children and prepared to accept economic dependency. Against this background, Byrne conducted her study on single womens identity in contemporary Irish society and demonstrates how single women negotiate the normative meaning of womanhood and successfully construct their single identity. In this paper, we would adopt Byrnes definition of familism as it agrees with the reality of the contemporary Malay Muslim society in Malaysia. This definition of familism is interesting in that it perceives never married women as a social misfit due to their status as neither a wife nor a mother. How do these women who do not fit into the prescribed notion of womanhood suit into the society? What happen to single women who are economically independent - will she be deemed incomplete and hence perceived as a lesser woman? The experiences of these women who do otherwise shall be the focus of our investigation. We argue that the experiences of single women themselves are crucial in understanding singlehood as a phenomenon as well as explaining single women as a social category that was previously forgotten in social sciences research.

3. This Study
This paper draws upon an ongoing empirical research relating to the experiences of single Malay Muslim women. The data presented here is based on preliminary findings from three in-depth interviews with three never-married Malay Muslim women over the age of 30. The participants were recruited through personal contacts and snowballing method. Each interview took almost two hours with an extra follow-up meeting. Interviews were audio recorded (with the consent of the participants), and later transcribed verbatim. All three participants were asked to talk about their family background, their views on marriage as well as reasons for being single and how they live their single lives. The interviews were informal, and though a guide is prepared, participants were allowed to express their views freely and were only probed with questions for clarification. The transcripts were then analysed to determine patterns and themes that are prominent in their definition and reflection on singlehood. The names of the participants remain anonymous so as to protect their privacy, in view of the sensitive nature of this research topic. For the purpose of this paper, we shall call them Nora, Miza and Lina. It is important to mention here that the interviews were conducted in the preferred language chosen by the participants. In the case of Lina and Nora, both of them prefer to converse in English though there are instances when code-switching happens especially when we are talking about things that are 398

European Journal of Social Sciences Volume 8, Number 3 (2009) related to Malay culture or Malay understanding of certain things (as will be illustrated in the findings section below). As for Miza, the preferred language was Malay with some usage of English here and there. In this case, we as the researcher did the translation to English. Table 2 provides some notes on the profile of all three participants.
Table 2: Notes about the participants
Notes about the participant Lina is in her late 40s and worked as a lecturer. She did her first and third degree in Malaysia, and had the opportunity to study abroad during her Masters. She lives alone in her apartment. She has seven siblings - three are married, one just got divorced and the rest are single. She spend most of her time at the office and goes back to her parents house almost weekly to look after her parents who are not well. Lina describes herself as being meticulous and organised as well as friendly and approachable. Nora is 42 years old and owns a law firm; and is very passionate about her job. She lives in her own house with her parents. Nora is the second of four siblings of three daughters and one son. Her elder sister and younger brother are married, but her youngest sister is single in her thirties. Nora was born in Malacca but raised in Singapore. She completed her studies in law at University Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. This 5 2 lady who walks fast all the time loves travelling very much and make it a point to go vacation abroad every year. Miza is 34 years old. Shes the eldest of five siblings; and stays with her parents at their family residence. She help her parents runs their family business, and will soon take over when the right time comes. Her younger brother is already married. Miza is a soft-spoken lady. She is a business-minded person whos passionate about her job. Miza loves cooking and if she can afford the time shell invite friends for get-together at her family place. Miza did her Masters in the USA and currently pursuing her PhD at one of the local university.

Pseudonym Lina



4. Findings: Experiences and Reflections of Singlehood

The analysis of the interview transcriptions reveals four major themes in understanding the meaning of singlehood from the experiences and reflections of Malay Muslim women perspective. They are (1) centrality of the notion of jodoh (soul-mate as fated by God) in explaining the reasons for being single, (2) single women are aware of their stigmatised status and acknowledge feelings of inadequacy, (3) family members and friends are important as their social support system, and finally (4) singleness is also seen in positive light as opportunity towards self-enhancement. 4.1. Centrality of the notion of jodoh in explaining the reasons for being single Jodoh pertemuan dan ajal maut di tangan Tuhan or matters of death and soul mates are in the hands of God is a common phrase that a Malay person would refer to in talking about marriage and nonmarriage. Jodoh in this regard means soul mate or partner; but most importantly the word has an implication of fate determined by God at the perfect timing. If one says she havent met her jodoh that means God has not permit her to meet her soul-mate because the time is not yet right. Thus it is no surprise that all three participants mention the word jodoh in explaining the reasons for non-marriage: I dont go out dating, maybe that is the reason that tak menemui jodoh... (meaning dont meet my partner). Yeah, its difficult yeah... I dont choose to be single... I dont close all doors. Its like Ill never get married... no, never say never. If we go back to the saying, tiap sesuatu dijadikan berpasangan (she is referring to the Quranic phrase everything is created in pairs). (Nora) When I was in UiTM, I used to think that I will get married at the age of 23. So, when I met this guy, I thought hes my jodoh. Unfortunately when I got back from the US after my Masters, I realised that things are not happening. Probably hes not my jodoh after all... (Miza) 399

European Journal of Social Sciences Volume 8, Number 3 (2009) An important implication here is that because jodoh is closely related to fate granted by God, none of the participants claim that being single is fully their personal choice. Rather they would view it as already fated for them, but partly determined by their own choice. Besides z other reasons given for their state of singleness include too busy to get to know men, didnt realise that I am getting older and older, responsibility towards the family and havent found the right man yet. All three participants agree that if their jodoh comes, they will certainly tie the knot. As such, singleness is perceived to be temporary stage prior to marriage. They also share the opinion that marriage is a religious obligation and that it is something that is called for in Islam and one should not reject it and there are times when they feel guilty that they are not fulfilling this obligation yet, as expressed by Miza: There are times when I think that if it is so difficult to find the right man, than I might as well be single and not think of getting married at all. But then, I got to know of this hadith 7 something saying that marriage is the Prophets sunnah and those who reject marriage are not the Prophets followers... That makes me feel guilty of my thoughts about not marrying... Traditionally, the responsibility of finding marriage suitors lies in the hands of parents and other older family members. Strange (1976: 562) notes that parents tend to be very realistic about a childs traits and talents and about their own socioeconomic and religious standing in the community. It is usual for them to seek a mate for their children who will be similarly categorised. She further asserts that ideally, both male and female should be industrious and capable within their respective traditional spheres; he should show evidence of becoming a good provider and she should hold promise of competence as housewife and mother. Both must have good reputations, she must be a virgin. However, Strange found out that the patterns of mate selection started to change with increasing education amongst the girls. Girls who are more educated tend to find their own potential spouses. Similar finding was noted by Sloane (1999: 30): Among the Malay men and women I knew in Kuala Lumpur, the nature of selecting a partner has changed from their parents day. No longer are marriages arranged by parents. Men and women who have benefited from the NEP (New Economic Plan) education policies generally freely choose and endogamously marry each other. Potential spouses now meet at university or in corporate offices, or are introduced by mutual friends. The participants of this study are the second generation Malays who benefited from the education policies that Sloane mentioned above. The policies allow equal opportunities for both boys and girls to pursue education up to the tertiary level. However, the current trends show that the number of girls entering universities is increasing by the years. This leads to the concern that educated women might face difficulties in finding potential suitors; hence the suggestions of marrying down for women single professional women should face the reality that it is difficult to find a husband who is of the same educational level and earns more than them and that parents should not be too choosy in finding suitors for their highly educated daughters, as well as men should not be embarrassed to marry higher ranking women (Utusan Online 2nd December 2005). When asked whether they are being too choosy and do not consider men of lower educational level, all three participants agree that they have the right to choose because having a compatible husband is important in making their marriage successful. However, they see compatibility in a man more in terms of being a good companion rather than economic provider. Nevertheless, despite the change in marriage patterns, some people still relate reasons for nonmarriage with black magic and evil deeds i.e. related to traditional beliefs of the Malays. The influence

Hadith refers the words of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. while sunnah is his deeds. Together with the al-Quran, hadith and sunnah serve as primary resources to Islamic jurisprudence


European Journal of Social Sciences Volume 8, Number 3 (2009) of supernatural forces8 explains the reasons for single womens inability to forge relationship with man, as related by Lina: Being an Asian, I sometimes look at certain spiritual thing, and I got feedback saying that urm... saying that I and all of my family members has got some kind of voodoo charm thing, you know... where people are jealous of my family and they have done something to my family... so, when a guy look at you, they dont see you as something nice and appealing... they see you like a piece of old cloth, wreck... Being educated, you feel that this thing wont happen, but when it reaches certain level of the same thing happening again and again... then you start thinking... oh, this is happening. Lina is certainly not the only one who relates supernatural reasons and black magic for answering the question of not getting into marriage. Indeed there are some traditional healers who actually perform rituals to treat difficulties in finding jodoh (berat jodoh). The common ritual is the floral bath (mandi bunga) whereby fragrant flowers of various colours and types will be mixed into a bucket of water and poured over the womans body. It is believed that this bath will wash away bad omen and brings out the glow in the womans face (Sharifah Sofiah Atiqah 2003). However, most women are very careful about this ritual so as not to be involved with un-Islamic practices, while others would see that as pathetic, as if we are too ugly or too dirty. Besides mandi bunga, some women do take the effort to find jodoh but at the same time being careful so as not to be labelled perigi cari timba (literally translated to English as a well looking for a bucket which means a woman goes to find a potential spouse when in normal cases it should be done the other way round). Efforts mentioned by the three participants in this study include going for umrah or lesser Haj to seek Gods help, get to know more new people as well as going to matchmaking agencies. 4.2. Awareness of stigmatised status and acknowledgment of the feelings of inadequacy Labelling theory suggests that labels given to people affect their own and others perceptions towards them and it form part of ones self-concept (Henslin 2005). Negative labels are attached to stigmatised people to indicate their inferiority and shows how problematic they are because they do not follow the normal or the stereotypes that are expected of them. Byrne (2000) argues that single women are stigmatised because of their singular identity, being childless and doubtful sexuality. In Malay society, single women are labelled as andartu or old virgin. The fact that she is old but still a virgin often calls for cynical remarks such as what a pity, she has not experience it (sex) yet, and shes not sellable (tak laku). Also, some people would perceive single women as suspect to illicit sexual activities due to their not having a husband. Generally all our three participants are aware of the negative labels attached to single women but they gave different responses towards the label andartu - Nora feels that it is a funny label, Lina hates the name, and Miza says shes afraid to be labelled as such: Ive never been called andartu... I think that is just a label, I dont feel offended. What is most important is that one is still anak dara (virgin), that is what the religion wants if one is not married... but of course this anak dara is a bit tua (old)... (laugh). Maybe people make it sound funny because she is old but tak pernah rasa (had never tasted it). (Nora) I wish I had taken the chance to get to know more people when I was in the US... but then I thought I didnt want to mix study and boyfriend But yeah, I kind of regret it now... because I am afraid if people might call me andartu (Miza)

Patricia Sloane (1990), in her book Islam, Modernity and Entrepreneurship among the Malays mentions the story of a successful woman entrepreneur who was accused of practicing charm and black magic to gain popularity and success in business (pg. 164-166)


European Journal of Social Sciences Volume 8, Number 3 (2009) I hate that label... I just hate it... its so degrading and rude. (Lina) We suggest that the differing responses from the three participants are due to their different background and surroundings. As for Nora, her immediate social environment is more multicultural and urban as compared to Lina who works in a small town surrounded by Malay communities. Being in a social environment where the society is rather homogenous in terms of racial and religious background would enhance the normative meaning of womanhood. Thus, in the case of Lina, being a single woman would mean that she is not following the stereotype of what a woman should be according to Malay norms. In this study, we suggest that this notion of normality and expectation of being a woman do affect our participants in some way or another. All three of them related their concern of being single and share their occasional feelings of inadequacy: so, Ill be 42 soon. Friends do make some remarks Maybe she didnt mean to hurt my feelings Ok, she said who would want to marry you? You are approaching menopause I have to admit, that affects me for quite a while (Nora) ... what is wrong with me? Am I too... urm... too educated that they dont want to talk to me, or he doesnt want to make me his wife? Am I too much of a talker or am I making them feel intimidated or that kind of thing... Sometimes I do tell myself that its ok if I am not married... but there are times when it keeps coming to my brain... am I going to end up in old folks home? What will happen when I am too old to walk... Its kind of sad... (Lina) 4.3. Family members and friends as important social support system Darrington, Piercy & Niehuis (2005) noted that social support is a multidimensional construct of different types of support, including emotional support, integration, tangible help, and information support. Single women agree that family and friends are important in their life and serve as important social support system. When asked to name ten most important people in their lives, all three participants gave the names of their parents, siblings and close friends. Lina feels that having a strong social support system is important in providing her with emotional support: ... because this people would urmwould be with me... they are very close to me and they would be there if I do need some kind of assurance... I need them when I am stress, when I am lonely... I think the people that I mention, they... they know who I am. They see me as what I am. I can be myself. They are not going to be judgmental of me or what. Also, having supportive family and friends help single women in facing the challenges of negative perceptions towards their single status: I am lucky that my parents are very understanding. They do not pester me with that question (when are you getting married). I think this help me in a way... I dont feel pressured about being single... And friends, yeah... they are very nice too. (Nora) Another important aspect of having close relationships with family members and friends is that it provides single women with sense of responsibility and purpose in life. This is apparent in the caring responsibility taken up by single women in their roles as daughters and aunties: In terms of relationship with my immediate family members... yes, I would say I am happy. If they need help, Ill extend my hands... Ill help with the children. Ill take them out for lunch or dinner. Like yesterday... I was on a half day leave because I was taking care of the children. Their parents had things to attend to... we are very close as a family, so we can depend on each other. 402

European Journal of Social Sciences Volume 8, Number 3 (2009) (Nora) Sometimes I think its good that I am still single... I can spend more time with my family... especially my parents. They are not well now... I can spend time taking care of them... And yes, since I dont have children, I do spend a lot of money on my parents and siblings as well as nephews and nieces... I enjoy doing it... its kind of fulfilment for me... (Lina) Indeed caring responsibility has always been the role of unmarried daughters. Simpson (2003) in her research on caring relationships of contemporary spinsters as daughters and mothers conclude that caring responsibility remain an important role for unmarried women though it might be undertaken in a different context. She also noted on the traditional family strategy of keeping one daughter at home to ensure the well-being of parents as the explanation to spinsterhood during those days. However, in current times, single daughters are still playing their caring role even though they are not staying with their family of origin. In the Malay context, this is done by visiting them consistently and contributing to the financial needs of the parents (as mentioned by Lina). Looking from religious point of view, fulfilling familial responsibilities and obligation towards the parents is an important duty for the children. Thus, single women in our study feel that by performing their roles as good daughters, they can counter their guilty feeling for not fulfilling the marriage obligation. 4.4. Singleness is seen in positive light as opportunity towards self-enhancement Adams (1976) asserts that two factors, i.e. level of education and professions have important bearings on singleness because they contribute to the scope of independent living and psychological freedom. Being in the higher level of the economic stratum allows single women in contemporary period to enjoy financial freedom and thus the choice of marriage postponement. Gone are the days when marriage is a must in order to provide economic support for women. This is also true in the case of Malay Muslim women in this study. Having their own career and economic independence, these women have strong sense of agency in determining their own direction in life. Though the society might condemn their single status, they have the means and ways to gain respect by not being a wife or a mother. They can be successful woman by taking another route that is via career development and self-enhancement: ... though I am not married, I am still a woman. I would define myself as a career woman. I can work... earn my own income... I can voice, I am voiceless. I can take care of my parents. I have my own money and can spend it the way I wish... I dont know if I am still considered incomplete... (Lina) My definition of being successful... if I see the whole picture of myself... my life collage consists of my family, my office and my career... But if I look at myself... people will measure success from what you can buy, the material aspect. So, in terms of work, I am very happy with where I am right now. In terms of family, yes... though I dont have a husband and my own children, I do have my immediate family... and my relationship with them is good... So, I am successful... I would say so... (Nora) Of course I hope to get married one day. But since I am still single now... I will accept my singleness in a positive light. Ill treat this as an opportunity for me to know myself better, to strive to be a better person... I have more time to give to business development... and more time to do things that I like to do... (Miza)


European Journal of Social Sciences Volume 8, Number 3 (2009)

5. Concluding Remarks
This study demonstrates that single Malay Muslim womens understanding of singlehood is very much related to Islamic religious teachings and Malay cultural norms. Both promote marriage and family as the fundamental unit that makes up a society. Thus, the life of a woman as a member of that society is predetermined by their roles within marriage and family institution. This leaves single women at a marginal position as they do not fulfil the role of wives and mothers. However, single women manage to still define themselves within familial role by being responsible daughters. At the same time they develop their self-concept as respectable individuals by being successful career women.

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