Emirati men urged to spend more time with children

Young doctor tells women's forum about sharing responsibilities and becoming more involved with his offspring.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 13:  Dr Mohammad Al Redha, Head of Planning & Development, Dubai Health Authority, pictured at home with his wife, Amal, who works as a senior analyst at Dubai Cares, and daughter Shahad, 3.5 years old, in Dubai on January 13, 2010. Dr Al Redha also has a 10-month-old son, Yousuf (not pictured).  (Randi Sokoloff / The National)  For News story by Zoi Constantine.
 *** Local Caption ***  RS002-011310-AL-REDHA.jpg

DUBAI // Young Emirati men should become more involved in the raising of their children, provide support for their wives and strive for a healthy work-life balance. That is the message from one young Emirati husband and father.

For Dr Mohammed al Redha, one of his biggest lessons in life came in the midst of a tense work situation. Shortly after qualifying as a surgeon, he was in the middle of a long operation led by a senior colleague, when all of a sudden the older man paused and told him to take a break. "He said, 'Please, don't make the same mistakes I did and not be involved with your family and your children's lives'," recalled Dr al Redha, 29, the head of planning and development in the Dubai Health Authority's health policy and strategy sector.

It was a pivotal moment for a doctor setting out on his career. From then on, Dr al Redha, a father of two young children vowed to cut down on his hours and dedicate time to family life. "Now, after 2.30pm, I'm out of the office," he said. "I go and pick up my daughter from school and then have lunch with my father." Dr al Redha told his story on the second and final day of the Arab Women Leadership Forum. He was one of only three male speakers at the conference, which examined issues affecting women in the UAE and the region.

"I see the role of Emirati men changing," he said. "More and more we are involved in family life and with our children." It is important, he said, for young men to acknowledge that they must play their part in family life to allow their wives to pursue a career. "We can't just put that responsibility on one person only," he said. "There has to be more sharing of the responsibilities, and that is done through good communication."

Going into marriage, young men should also be ready for the changes that will take place in their lives, he said. "It's different when you get married," Dr al Redha said. "You can afford to see the guys, but not all the time and not at the expense of your family. For me, my real investments are my two kids. You should know your children and be part of raising them." Similarly, men should be part of their wives' lives and support them in finding the right balance and in setting priorities, he said.

Dr al Redha said he and his wife, Amal, who works as an analyst at the humanitarian organisation Dubai Cares, were both involved with their children, aged three years and six months. But he conceded that neither would be able to maintain a career without a strong social support network - their family. "I'm very happy for my wife that she is working in a good place," he said. It is also important for the al Redhas to make time for each other. They both have one day a week when they see their friends, which Dr al Redha described as "very important".

Co-ordination and, most importantly, communication are key to making sure that both are on the same page, he said. Dr al Redha was among a dozen speakers who yesterday addressed the meeting on maintaining a healthy work-life balance, organised by the Dubai Women Establishment, a government body headed by Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid. Dr May al Dabbagh, the director of the gender and public policy programme at the Dubai School of Government, said one of the over-arching messages from the conference was that women's lives should be looked at holistically. "There is a need to understand that building one's career happens in tandem with the rest of life," she said.

Among the main obstacles, Dr al Dabbagh said, was a lack of institutional policies within organisations to allow for more flexibility and to help people maintain a healthy balance. On the first day, the forum heard speakers call for the adoption of policies to help women remain working after becoming mothers, such as on-site childcare centres. Dr Katty Marmenout, an assistant professor of management at the Emlyon Business School in France, said rapid societal changes in the UAE had seen more women enter the workforce while more men had become involved in family life.

"I tend to see work-life balance as more of a fit - a fit between priorities and the situation," she said. @Email:zconstantine@thenational.ae