View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Monday, August 10, 2009

Is a Marriage Campaign the Best Way to Preserve Emirati Identity?

Widad Samawi is an Abu Dhabi woman who is championing the cause of marriage but is an aggressive campaign to get married, stay married and multiply the best way to preserve Emirati identity?

National Campaign
According to an FP article, Samawi is a leader in the Abu Dhabi Campaign for Social Cohesion and the CEO of Al Tawasel for Training and Consultancy, which is co-organiser of the marriage campaign in conjunction with several government bodies.

Government Incentives
In a population of 6.4 million, where only one in seven people (15 percent) are UAE nationals, it is easy to understand the desire to preserve Emirati culture.

The UAE government actively encourages Emiratis to have children—six is the optimum number—and it shows this support tangibly by giving Emirati couples significant financial assistance for wedding expenses, housing costs and medical expenses.

The UAE Marriage Fund (set up in the early 1970s to help young people with marriage on both the financial and educational levels) gives men who marry Emiratis a 70,000-dirham (US$19,000-dollar) grant.

National Crisis
Despite all these incentives Tawasel reports that one in four Emirati marriages resulted in divorce in the UAE last year, with 42 percent of the cases involving couples in the 20-30 age group.

Amnah Al Mandoos of the Family Affair Department of Sharjah Court, recently told Gulf News that “the UAE now has the highest rate of divorce in the GCC.”

Rethinking Marriage Campaign
It is laudable to have community groups like Tawasel running training programs and offering free marriage guidance to couples, however, one wonders whether there are some deficiencies in their approach that are leading to the very problems they are attempting to solve.

Marriage for Patriotism
To marry because it is your public duty to perpetuate the race and keep the culture alive is not a sufficient enough motivation for getting married. A couple getting married for patriotic reasons or under parental pressure may produce Emirati children but the stress the parents undergo and resulting conflict may undermine the effective transmission of culture to their offspring.

Marriage as Religious Duty
Marriage is regarded as a religious duty in Islam but to marry simply to gain divine acceptance and favor is an insufficient motivator to stay together. To produce plenty of children as a sign of Allah’s blessing may well put greater financial stress and time constraints on the marriage when both these commodities are in short supply.

Marriage Counseling and Training
The offer of counseling and workshops for marriage partners is a positive step toward addressing the problem. A recent series of workshops set up in Sharjah by the Ministry of Social Affairs (MSA) as part of the awareness programme of the Family Guidance and Reform Initiative have revealed many testimonies from participants as to their usefulness.

Survey and Research
A thorough survey of Emirati couples may well unveil some areas causing conflict and point up ways that marital problems might be prevented.

A recent study by researchers from the Australian National University has shown among Australians that a couple’s age, previous relationships and even whether they smoke or not are factors that affect the quality and durability of their marriage.

This extensive study of nearly 2,500 Australian couples (married or living together) from 2001-2007 identified factors relating to those who remained together compared with those who had separated or divorced.

In brief, here are some of their findings:

Age Differences and Age at Marriage
An Australian husband who is nine or more years older than his wife is twice as likely to get divorced, as are husbands who get married before they turn 25 years of age.

Effect of Children
Children affect the longevity of an Australian marriage with 20 percent of couples who have children before marriage (either from a previous relationship or in the same relationship) having separated, compared to just 9 percent of couples without children born before marriage.

Australian women who want children much more than their partners are also more likely to get a divorce.

Effect of Parents and Divorce
Aussie couples who have parents who separated or divorced will have a greater likelihood of doing the same and there is greater potential for divorce for those on their second or third marriage.

Emirati Marriage Research
This survey was conducted among Australian couples and it might well have different results if conducted among Emirati couples but it demonstrates the value of undertaking comprehensive research over a significant period of time. A survey uniquely crafted for the Emirati culture might raise specific areas to be addressed such as the pressure to marry young, the expectation to have children early soon after marriage and the wisdom of encouraging marriage among partners with a great age difference.

Pre-Marital Preparation
Often efforts are concentrated at providing marriage counselling and marriage enrichment workshops to those already married yet this may be like closing the gate after the horse has bolted.

One area for close examination could be the period before marriage in Emirati culture where relationships commence within tight restrictions. In the period of engagement Emirati men and women are prevented from meeting alone and are unable to nurture a friendship or develop their social skills with each other before they are married. Allowing more time and space to get to know each other, to express views about expectations, roles, finance and sexuality should lead to greater understanding.

When the accident and death toll on UAE reached alarming rates the government toughened the testing and increased the training that drivers are required to do before they are given their driving licenses. Similarly, if too many marriages end up in painful tragedy, greater attention must be given to prepare people before they set out on the journey of marriage.

Ola Galal, Marriage in UAE: Key to National Identity, AFP, 11 July 2009.
Mohammed N Al Khan, Husbands Speak Out at Divorce Workshop, Gulf News, July 16, 2009.
Love not Enough to Keep Couples Together, Reuters, MSNBC, 14 July 2009.
Rebecca Kippen, Bruce Chapman and Peng Yu, What’s Love Got to Do With It? Paper Presented at the Biennial HILDA Survey Research Conference, 16-17 July 2009, Melbourne.
Honouring Tradition, The National, 7 August 2009.

Check it Out
Check out the new site America’s Cup in the UAE.

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

Image: “Greater attention must be given to prepare people before they set out on the journey of marriage.”