ABU DHABI // The Marriage Fund has called for Emirati women to be given better access to loans and private-sector jobs so they can contribute more to decisions in the home.
The recommendation follows a study by the fund which found that although most (81.4 per cent) of the 414 Emiratis surveyed acknowledged the importance of empowering women to make decisions jointly with their husbands, such joint decisions were rare - particularly in financial matters.
Half the respondents said decisions about building a home were made by one partner only. A similar number said the same about the household budget. More than half (55 per cent) said car-buying decisions were made by one partner alone.
Dr Ahmad Alomosh, dean of sociology at Sharjah University, said the results were in line with previous studies.
"This is a patriarchal society, so men would never let go of this," he said. "Usually in financing, they take charge. They can try to appear democratic, but in reality they would not be."
Afra Al Basti, executive director of the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children and an appointed FNC member, said it was crucial for couples to take decisions jointly in all matters, including money.
"It is more than a marriage bond, responsibility is on both partners," she said. "Money is an important issue, not limited to buying a car or a house, but also to help a family to settle."
A key challenge remains the unwillingness of some men to permit their wives to work. Two respondents in five said women should not leave the house to work and therefore contribute to household finances, and as many said workplaces did not treat the sexes equally.
"This is true, a lot of men do not like women to be in some jobs," Dr Alomosh said. "If a man is a manager, it would be hard to bring a woman up to be on a par with him, to be in charge. This is true in Arab societies."
But changes were happening, he said. "The situation is improving as attitudes begin to change."
About three-quarters of respondents said society was increasingly respecting women's role, and 71 per cent said women were becoming more educated.
Two-thirds said women were able to choose what kind of job they did, and more than four in five said they were able to choose the field of their education.
In an attempt to bridge these gaps, the Marriage Fund urges that school and university classes be set up to make women more aware of their rights and responsibilities.
Natasha Ridge, a research fellow at Dubai School of Government, said it was important that such courses be available to both sexes, or they could be counterproductive.
"Given that the situation is already dominated by males, it would not be better to give classes to women only, but men too, on how important it is to support the spouse and what value she adds to a discussion," she said.
"Currently, seminars are not very focused on helping men to understand that the wife's opinion is important and that it could be helpful."
She said a recent birth-control campaign in Egypt had failed because it targeted only women.
Dr Alomosh said educating only women on their rights and responsibilities could lead to more matrimonial discord.
The Marriage Fund recommended that women should be helped to become more financially independent, through increased provision of jobs in the private sector, and loans.
Dr Mona Al Baher, deputy chief executive of care and rehabilitation at the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, and an FNC member, was surprised by the study's findings. She queried the survey's small sample and undeclared methodology, and said they meant the results were not credible.
"Women are the ones taking economic decisions in the family," she said. "It is very rare that they do not. Who does the grocery shopping? Who buys children's clothes? Who takes care of servants at home, and travelling? Children and women."
The Marriage Fund was set up in 1992 to encourage marriage between UAE nationals by providing advice and financial support. It promotes mass weddings, and offers grants of Dh70,000 to eligible prospective Emirati husbands.