ABU DHABI // Young couples should have realistic expectations of marriage and adopt more responsible attitudes about their futures, experts said yesterday at the opening of a campaign to promote family values. The Abu Dhabi National Campaign for Social Cohesion will be rolled out over the next week, with events including workshops, poetry recitals and free family and marriage counselling sessions in the capital, Al Ain and Al Gharbia. A group wedding for people with special needs will be held today.
Organised by Al Tawasel Centre for Training and Family and supported by government entities including the municipality and police, the campaign is based on the theme "Build a family ... Build a nation", and is being held under the patronage of Sheikha Latifa bint Zayed, Tawasel's honorary president. Widad Samawi, Tawasel's executive director and the coordinator of the campaign, said the event was intended to fill a growing need in the community.
"We consulted with ladies coming to the centre who presented their problems and asked how to manage the problems in their lives, especially their marriages," she said. "We want to stop the problems before they get out of control and people feel they have to take the hard decision to divorce." Mrs Samawi said this was the first of several related campaigns Tawasel plans to lead over the next five years. The focus this time is on recently married couples as well as young people thinking about getting married; the aim is to equip them with more information about what to expect and the tools to solve their problems.
According to Tawasel, divorce rates in the country have increased in recent years. About 26 per cent of marriages are breaking down, it said, and 42 per cent of couples in their twenties are seeking divorces. The centre has found that 37 per cent of divorces occur in the first six years of marriage. According to participants, some of the problems facing young couples in the UAE include miscommunication and the influence of friends, family members or external factors. "Being open to other cultures is healthy and helpful, but we should use this and not let it erode values," Mrs Samawi said. "The main concepts from our traditions and religion should not be replaced."
The first session, at Abu Dhabi Municipality Theatre, was full of young men and women who listened to speakers including Sheikh Taleb al Shehi, an imam, and Dr Ali Sharab, a Saudi consultant in leadership development. During Dr Sharab's session, he took questions from the audience relating to his topic of responsibility. "It all comes down to responsibility in marriage and family life," he said. "I think this is the most important subject in the world and we have missed it. All of the problems start from a lack of responsibility and commitment in all areas."
Adel al Rabeeah, Abu Dhabi Municipality's public relations manager, said the government departments were keen to be involved in the campaign because of a sense of social responsibility. In his former role as a radio presenter, Mr al Rabeeah said, he was often shocked at people's attitudes towards marriage. "Last year I asked new graduates whether they would prefer a new car or marriage," he said. "I got so many SMS responses and a majority said they wanted a car because they could just change it or throw it.
"I think now our life is like a takeaway and people do not have enough responsibility." Fatima, a 20-year-old Emirati attending yesterday's session, who would be identified only by her first name, said that while she would like eventually to get married, she plans to wait until she has finished university. "I want to go into marriage educated and to be able to face life," she said. "I need someone who understands me and the needs of life and who thinks about the future."
Fatima knows "a lot" of people who are divorced, including couples in her own family, and does not want to go down the same path, she said. Divorce could be avoided by learning from others and understanding how to "build a good life". The Abu Dhabi National Campaign for Social Cohesion will continue until March 18. firstname.lastname@example.org