Complex social change is reason for the UAE’s high divorce rate

Recent studies have shown that the number of divorce cases among Emiratis rose seven per cent between 2009 and 2011 for Emirati couples in Dubai, the most populous of the seven emirates. Jeffry E Biteng / The National
Recent studies have shown that the number of divorce cases among Emiratis rose seven per cent between 2009 and 2011 for Emirati couples in Dubai, the most populous of the seven emirates. Jeffry E Biteng / The National

Divorce is considered the very last resort in Islam and it is a difficult decision for an Emirati to make. Our society views newly-single women very differently from married ones and considers it important that families stay together for the sake of the children.

Yet, divorce rates are rising in the UAE. Recent studies have shown that the number of cases rose 7 per cent between 2009 and 2011 for Emirati couples in Dubai, the most populous of the seven emirates. Earlier this month, the Federal National Council member from Ajman, Ali Al Nuaimi, said official statistics showed that the number of divorces rose 4 per cent in 2012-2013 (from 2,351 to 2,443) and that it was at a shocking 11 divorces a day this year. That would mean 4,015 divorces in the course of 2014.

Why is this happening? Everyone agrees that there is a need to find solutions but that can only happen if we understand the reasons for the rise.

According to a leading marriage counsellor, it is the result of great social change, very rapidly executed. She says that the fast pace of development brought with it crucial changes to the Emirati lifestyle. More women leave the family home to work, for example, while in the past, they would have been content to look after the children and do the housework. This has created a gap between the husband and wife’s understanding of the needs of the new Emirati woman. Today, she may be both financially independent and high profile.

Add to this the culture of irresponsibility created by our over-dependence on the services of maids and other domestic workers. Most families in the UAE have a maid but the level of dependence may differ. For instance, in some families, no one will even get themselves a glass of water. It could be argued that a child who is so dependent on their maid is unlikely to realise the responsibilities that come with getting married when he or she grows up. Parents play a big role in raising a responsible child, who will go on to become a responsible adult, so it may be sensible for them to foster self-reliance. As that marriage counsellor recounted, one couple split up despite her efforts at reconciliation because the woman wanted to do little as she was so used to being served by a maid. But her husband refused to employ a maid and their differences become irreconcilable.

Popular culture plays an important role in forming young people’s impressions of marriage. For instance, most movies highlight how beautiful and fun it is to be in a relationship, creating a vivid image in young people’s minds that it is easy to be married. They fail to consider that one of the biggest challenges of marriage is to understand and support each other and that this is a two-way process.

Then there is the issue of the male mindset. Many men still believe that their wife should think and act like women of 30 years ago. But, times have changed and men have not made the mental switch that would allow them to adapt to the new woman. There are many stories that illustrate this. For example, there was the man who told his wife during an argument that he had wanted to marry an illiterate, gullible woman, not someone who had an opinion and the facts to back it up. Then there was the husband who refused to support his wife’s ambition to continue with her master’s degree, leading her to seek a divorce.

The UAE is not unique in social change seeing a parallel rise in divorce rates. It has happened elsewhere in the world. In India, which still has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world – at about 1.1 per cent – divorce rates are slowly rising, especially in big cities. Sociologists say there are many reasons, including fewer financial and social reasons for Indian women to stay in a marriage. Something similar may be happening in the UAE, with our new generation of more independent women. They are so much less dependent on men.

salalawi@thenational.ae

@SarahKhamisUAE

Published: December 29, 2014 04:00 AM

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