When socialist party leader and presidential candidate, Francois Hollande was announced winner of the French presidential election on May 6, he had the full attention of the world. No longer was he merely a contender of the race to occupy Palace de l’Elysee for a term of five years, he was officially recognized as successor to Nicolas Sarkozy, the outgoing president and loser of the election. From his physical appearance which saw a mayor in Southern France (Maryse Joissaines-Masini of Aux-en-Provence) questioning his ability to lead to his private life where his unmarried status draws attention, Hollande is certainly in the spotlight at the moment. What even makes him more unique is the fact that he leads a rather unconventional life. The new French president has never been married. Yes, he has not. He has managed to enjoy a union with fellow socialist Segolene Royal which produced four children and a current one with twice divorced journalist and mother of three Valerie Trierweiler all outside the boundary of marriage, making him the first unmarried president in the history of France.
Even though, Hollande’s disposition to marriage makes him the first of his kind to inhabit the French presidential palace, it seems as though the traditional institution of marriage is on the decline everywhere. While divorces continue to rise, the average age at which people marry has also risen. Gone are the teenage brides of yesterday. In their place are more mature brides missing the starry eyed look. Even in this part of the world where I live, marriage which used to be regarded as a means of ensuring financial security and escaping social stigma for women as well as the bedrock on which society is built has become a fashion to be adopted or disregarded. Whether traditionalists chose to blame this on the invasion of western culture and values, one thing is sure, the economy has played a role in this as well. It has become more acceptable to marry a woman who will contribute to the upkeep of the home than one who will be dependant on her husband, thus pushing the age of potential newly weds up. So while couples from western countries will cite reasons such as personal convictions for preferring to enjoy partnerships outside marriage, modern day Africans have to grapple with unstable economies before finding time to settle into marital bliss with their prince/princess charming. Sometimes, we just see others who are content to live their lives by themselves.
Another angle to this will be to suggest that marriage is enjoying less popularity because of the growing disillusion with religion and the advancement of science. Religion has always backed marriage as a means to discourage wayward behaviour but as science continues to contribute to the advancement of the human race, more people have come to view marriage as another of religion’s legacies. The traditional outlook to man and woman relationships have gone through several upheavals and one can say, our beliefs in marriage as a God ordained institution has been challenged on several fronts.
However, this is not to say that there are no advantages of being married. Research has shown that married couples stay together longer than those who cohabit. Some studies even show that the stability of marriage produces emotionally stable individuals. Still, there are those who will argue and rightly so that a marriage licence is not a prerequisite for a happy home or for raising children with loving care and that private morality should not be a concern of the society. Whichever way we chose to look at it, the world has moved on. Those people who chose to say “I do” to their partners have drastically reduced in numbers compared to what was obtained in history. In Africa, the stigma attached to spinsterhood or bachelorhood might take sometime to go away but globalization and economic repression seems to be enough to challenge former beliefs. On a final note, I hope that the rest of the world is as understanding as France. Hopefully, Hollande’s unmarried status will not present any difficulty for him in places like the Vatican, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia when he chooses to pay them state visits at some point in time.
Written on May 14, 2012 on www.umariayim.blogspot.com