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Beyond Non-Registration: Women Opting for Cohabitation in Tunis

In: Sociology of Islam
Author: Iris Kolman1
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In light of the negative social and legal consequences they might face, women in Muslim majority countries who enter into an intimate relationship without concluding a state-registered marriage are often considered victims of unscrupulous men. Usually this refers to unregistered ‘urfi (religious-only) marriages, as very little attention is paid to women engaging in cohabitation. Whereas non-marriage is generally framed as ‘waithood’ (the inability to marry) and hence as a negative choice, some women in Tunis opt for cohabitation, as they expect this to positively influence their relationship and potential future marriage as more equal and honest. These women express an ethical stance that does not fit society’s dominant normative framework and present themselves as liberal secular Tunisians. They take an ambivalent position on state-registered marriage, as they are critical of how Tunisian marriages are currently lived, but they do recognize the value of registration. Their rejection of ‘urfi marriage as against the law, gender unequal, and Salafi-inspired confirms their liberal secular sense of personhood.

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