x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

the women’s majlis Marriage isn’t a given anymore

How are Emirati women’s attitudes changing towards marriage in today’s UAE?

Each month, Weekend will pose a different question to be discussed by a series of female Emirati columnists. This week, we ask Shareena Al Nuwais:

How are Emirati women’s attitudes changing towards marriage in today’s UAE?

At 22, my family were beginning to panic that their youngest daughter was going to become a spinster. All of my friends were already married – I’m not too sure about the “happily” that usually accompanies the “married” part, so let’s just keep it at married. Some were expecting their first child and only I remained as a single woman.

After a series of matchmaking attempts from almost every member of the family, I was finally married off a month before my 23rd birthday. Strangely enough, I felt such a huge sense of accomplishment. I’d finally made it. I was married – and before the age of 23, so my husband can’t be ridiculed for marrying an “old maid”.

I lived happily in my bubble for six years until I had to work with a group of 23-year-old Emirati women. I naturally expected them all to be married, but when I asked, I got a shocked “of course not” response from them.

I was mortified. Not that they were unmarried, but that they were surprised by the question. They thought that they were too young to get married; they wanted to travel, to study, to “live”.

And right then, I couldn’t help but feel a little resentful. Somehow, I wished that I had the same attitude when I was their age. It seems that the younger generation these days are more concerned with other more interesting aspects of life. Marriage comes last, whereas in my days it was a race, and if you were not fast enough, you would miss the wagon.

Logically, though, the statistics of the UAE don’t favour marriage. First of all, Emirati women outnumber Emirati men two to one, according to the latest census. Additionally, local men are increasingly marrying non-local women. More damning than all this is the fact that local women find it difficult to contemplate marrying non-local men. It is both a cultural taboo and a practical limitation, as their children will not have Emirati citizenship. Either way, Emirati women have become more open to the idea of waiting for marriage.

However, there is an upside to all this. More local women are seeking higher education and pursuing sophisticated careers. The rates of women who pursue higher education far outnumber those of men; this is helped by the fact that the UAE has always been a leader in encouraging women to fulfil their career goals and be active and leading members of societies. Women can drive and work and hold many positions of power and responsibility in this country, and do so well.

All this has helped women feel that they have limitless options. I’m proud that we have come so far in so little time. I look at my two daughters and know that they can literally be whatever they want to be, but I still can’t help but worry about whether they will be able to find a good marriage. Maybe they will teach me how to not think that way someday.

Shareena Al Nuwais is a senior news editor with The National.


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