A new university in Ajman promises to make better mothers out of women by educating them about topics ranging from their rights to pedicures.
The University College for Mothering and Family Science, according to its founders, is the first university in the world to offer a bachelor's degree in the "mothering profession". Dr Nizar al Ani, the director of the university, said the four-year programme aims to prepare women to be good mothers through academic and vocational training.
"Motherhood is a profession which needs to be studied," he said. "This is specifically important in our society because of the high speed of change: nowadays, how to be a good mother is not merely passed from mother to daughter." The programme is important in the UAE because there are serious problems in society, he said, including householders' dependency on maids to run the family, and a high divorce rate.
According to studies cited by Dr al Ani, 80 per cent of parents' tasks and responsibilities for children in Gulf families are taken care of by maids. "On average, there is a minimum of two maids per household in the UAE. This dependency is dangerous, and we need to raise awareness among women on such matters by preparing and educating them," said Dr al Ani. "By preparing women with the right tools to create a healthy family, we will overcome such problems."
The course programme, which is accredited by the Ministry of Higher Education, is divided into three sections. The first deals with women's civic and legal rights, including her Islamic rights as a woman and mother. The second teaches her how to run a household with courses in cooking, home decoration, personal fitness and grooming. The third focuses on raising children. The university itself is a private venture launched by 11 investors. The Ajman government provided the building in which it is situated.
To date, 25 women have enrolled in the programme, which is scheduled to begin on October 3, but management hopes to sign up 120 students this year. Any woman with a secondary school degree is eligible and it is open to all nationalities, although Dr al Ani said the majority of those who enrolled to date are Emirati. "We have a mother and daughter among our students: the mother is 42 and her daughter has just finished secondary school, and they both want to pursue a degree with us," said Dr al Ani.
The annual fee is Dh25,000, but the first batch will be given a 20 per cent discount. Graduates will be able to work in family court or other professions that might require "Family Science" expertise, according to Dr al Ani. "If a woman can find a balance between her family and job, she might be able to work. But her priority should be the family," he said. Public reaction has been favourable. Amira Salem, 30, an Emirati government employee and mother of three, said she would be interested in enrolling, since it would provide her with the right knowledge to run her family affairs.
Nasser al Madhani, a 31-year-old Emirati flight engineer, said he is a big advocate of educating women on issues related to motherhood. However, he felt a full degree on the issue was excessive. "To educate oneself about such issues is important," he said. "But it can be done through seminars and individual reading." The reaction from the education sector was more reserved. Dr Rima Sabban, assistant professor of sociology at Zayed University, said she felt the project had more commercial objectives than educational ones. "If I were to provide a critical review of this initiative, I'd say it confines the role of the woman to purely taking care of the house and bringing up children," she said. "It also makes the family and its failure her sole responsibility.
"We do not need colleges teaching women how to apply makeup. Family is a joint institution and responsibility for it lies with both men and women. If we want to send the right message, we need create a family science discourse that is directed at both the husband and the wife." Dr May al Dabbagh, director of the Gender and Public Police Programme at Dubai School of Government said: "It is an excellent first step to introduce programmes that educate women about their rights."
"However, education in the Gulf is ever-evolving, and there is a difference between what is said and what gets done. Only time will tell if this programme increases awareness of gender equality or reiterates traditional roles."