Young Emiratis need a greater say in marriage to cut divorce risk

Psychologists say that rising levels of education among Emirati women mean more traditional yardsticks of marital compatibility - such as wealth and family connections - are less relevant.

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ABU DHABI // Young Emiratis need a greater say in choosing their spouse if the growing trend of divorce is to be reversed.

Some psychologists and young Emiratis question whether the tradition of arranged marriages is becoming less compatible with modern-day life.

Psychologists say that rising levels of education among Emirati women mean more traditional yardsticks of marital compatibility – such as wealth and family connections – are less relevant.

The practice of arranged marriage is also being questioned by a newly vocal sector of society – the young women themselves.

The National reported on Tuesday that divorce in Dubai has increased by 26 per cent from 2011, while marriage between Emiratis fell by 7 per cent.

Sociologists and lawyers have cited numerous reasons, from the high cost of marriage to a disparity between less-educated husbands and more highly-educated wives.

The key to reversing the trend, say some, lies in giving youth a greater say in who they marry.

"Marriage is for life, they shouldn't be forced into it," said Dr Ahmad Al Omosh, dean of the College of Sociology at the University of Sharjah.

"It's their life and their future. This will surely prevent negative effects in the future."

Dr Al Omosh found in a 2010 study that 65 per cent of Emirati marriages were "endogamous", or internal – meaning they are arranged by families.

Prospective spouses are chosen from either within the family, such as a cousin, or from the family of a close friend.

"Marriage in the UAE is still traditional," Dr Al Omosh said. "Long ago it wasn't a problem but now, because of education, an Emirati woman often asks herself, 'why am I forced into this marriage?'."

He said that when families selected a spouse for their child they tended to choose according to social status and wealth, rather than according to their child's interests.

"But they need to know their attitudes, both psychologically and socially," for the marriage to work, he added.

Traditionally, many marriages are arranged when both partners are relatively young. But Dr Justin Thomas, a psychology professor at Zayed University, said taking more time could prove fruitful.

"Putting less pressure on young people might give them time to identify a potential spouse with complementary aspirations and life goals," he said. "And afford them a little time to actually figure out what their own goals are.

"It's particularly dangerous that so many marriages are ending so quickly – that needs to be explored thoroughly.

"However, we should also keep in mind that many unions between young people are also working, and working well."

Amna Al Romaithi, 24, was engaged to her cousin for five years before she decided they were not compatible. She found him too controlling and jealous of her education.

"I told him I wanted to complete my studies and he was offended," she said. "He was angry that I would have a better degree than him."

Ms Al Romaithi has felt pressure from her family to get married. She said her mother reached a point where she no longer cared who the groom was "as long as I get married".

"I am against such marriages," she said. "I would rather get married to someone who knows my personality and I know his."

She wants her parents to listen to her opinion about who she should marry because, ultimately, she is relying on them to make an informed decision that will affect the rest of her life.

To Ms Al Romaithi, a husband's material wealth is not important – what matters is that he respects her.

"I want him to see that I complete him," she said. "I want him to understand that a woman now has a role in society, we are not only about being housewives.

"I can take care of both my family and my career."

Eman Al Mughairy, 20, thinks she has a couple more years before she starts feeling pressured to get married, noting that her 26-year-old sister is being encouraged to "look into the matter".

"If I got a lucky chance I would rather choose my own husband, a man who has established himself and can bear the responsibility of marriage.

"He has to be educated and intelligent and we have to have common interests.

"But I wouldn't open up to my parents because of our traditions."

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