Decades ago, when men left home to go pearling and fishing for months on end, women kept the families running. They were responsible for raising the children, looking after finances and providing food. In many ways, women were the community leaders.
Those days are over, but women are still engines of national development. With advanced degrees and senior leadership roles, Emirati women are earning more money and assuming more power in the public sphere than ever before.
These dramatic changes have had a great effect on the socioeconomic fabric, and have affected family structures as well. Most of these changes have been for the better. But not all. As The National reported yesterday, divorce rates are on the rise. In Dubai they rose 26 per cent last year. They also increased in the previous year.
There are many contributing factors. For one, women today are more empowered. They are outperforming males at every educational level and make up the majority of university students. In a historically patriarchal society, this can create tensions at home.
Fakir Al Gharaibeh, a professor of social work and social policy at the University of Sharjah, says others factors include "disparities in the ages of the spouses, disparities in education levels, communication failures, an inability to get to know each other before marriage, family interference, domestic violence, jealousy, lack of intimacy, and alcohol and drug use". Those are issues that affect marriages in every society.
Divorce may be the only option for marriages that are irredeemable, but holding the family together is very important, especially if children are involved. This is all the more true in traditional Arab societies where the family unit is so fundamental. In a 2012 survey sponsored by the Marriage Fund, 44.3 per cent of divorced women said their children had suffered. Separation has many negative effects: on children's health, on sleeping patterns, on schoolwork and on relationships with their peers.
Reducing rates of divorce may not be easy, but there are tools. Marriage counselling is one option. In arranged marriages, better attention should be paid to matchmaking - linking couples with similar educational backgrounds and career ambitions, for instance.
Marriage in the Arab world is more than a union of individuals, it is a union of families. Keeping families strong, for everyone, means building a stronger nucleus. Ultimately, that will require finding new ways to encourage partnerships of equals.