Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 19:35 pm (KSA) 16:35 pm (GMT)

Divorce and its impact on the UAE society

Najla Al Awadhi

In my grandmother's generation for an Arab and Muslim woman to divorce in our society was a rare thing, in my mother's generation it became far more acceptable, and in my generation it has become common practice.

Latest statistics show that the divorce rate in the UAE stands at 46 per cent, which is the highest in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with the divorce rate in Qatar being 38 per cent, 35 per cent in Kuwait and 34 per cent in Bahrain.

The divorce rate in the UAE is alarming for several reasons, specifically, that we as nationals already represent 20 per cent of our population, so a stable increase in national birth rates is critical and the stability of the family unit is crucial in ensuring that we are providing stable home environments for our children to grow in, and to also ensure that we are ingraining our heritage into our future generations through our homes. Increasing divorce rates negatively impacts birth rates and stable home environments.

Let me say here that divorce is a complex issue, I am not writing here to say that we should discourage divorce nor am I saying we should encourage it, what I do believe is that we should understand the underlying reasons for the spike in the divorce rate to be able to approach it in a way that protects the rights of all involved and most importantly that leads to greater social harmony.

The right to divorce has always been a right that Islam has granted women, but the actual practice has been limited. Muslim societies have always upheld the sanctity of the family, as the stability of the family unit is at the core of social stability, therefore the encouragement for reconciliation between couples has always been prioritised with divorce always being a last resort.

Socio-economic changes have created a metamorphosis in the landscape of our society, and it has happened so rapidly that some do not grasp the implications or its impact on their lives. Amongst the changes has been the rapid rise of female education, and an educated woman is no longer solely dependent on her husband, she has access to work opportunities, and most importantly she has a strong mind, which allows her to rationally decide as to what type of life she wants to live.

In my grandmother's generation, this was not the case, most women were illiterate, they had no understanding of the rights Islam had granted them, let alone any grasp of how to practise these rights, or how to survive independently.

I would also add here that while a large percentage of national women today are empowered through education, anachronistic traditions do persist and still bind many women to bad marriages, as these women and their families see the status of a divorcee in our society as taboo.

Rapid economic growth has also meant that as society we have become more materialistic, hence our material wants have increased, and this has often become a burdening factor in marriages, and today we are seeing a rise in dowry expectations, and wedding costs. This added to the demands for a luxurious lifestyle topped with daily living expenses, all have put a lot of pressure on marriages, as any inability to finance all the above can lead to marital discord.

Social factors

Adding to the social factors that fuel the trend of divorce, are unrealistic expectations; that is people marrying without understanding that it's not going to always be milk and honey, but that marriage, like any project in life, requires hard work, reviews and maintenance.

In addition there is the lack of compatibility of many couples, in many cases in our selection of our life-partners, which in a traditional society like ours, doesn't allow one to fully acquaint one's self with the character and conduct of the suitor, or there is often a rush to enter marriage due to family pressures and this could lead to compromising and accepting a non-compatible partner.

My parents have been married for 34 years, through it all, they remain together, happily. Is there a secret? I can say very simply, that it has been open communication, compassion and respect, which has translated into growing together, through good times and bad, rather than growing apart.

In life, divorce is a necessary option when there is no opportunity for reconciliation, specifically in marriages where there is spousal abuse or other chronic martial problems. But before we enter into marriages, and before we choose our life-partners, we should be aware of what we are getting into, we should be conscious of compatibility, we should look beyond excessive materialism, and above all, we should be aware that marriage is about building strong families, and strong and happy homes.

The UAE government has set up many social programmes to provide this type of education for young nationals today, to prepare them for the life journey of marriage, to instill in them the responsibility that this role entails; as the family unit is the foundation of the social fabric of our society, and therefore it is sacred and amongst our national priorities.


* Published in the UAE's GULF NEWS on October 01, 2007. Najla Al Awadhi is a member of the UAE parliament (the Federal National Council), Deputy CEO Dubai Media Incorporated, and General Manager of Dubai One TV.

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