x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Marriage is not the only template for modern family life

Many women want to get married, but not all can do so. But here are also other ways to live a family life and raise children.

We all know it is wrong to stereotype, yet we all make observations that, even if said in jest, add bricks to the false foundation of harmful generalisations.

Depending on who I am with, the discussion of "others" often comes up, and it is interesting to see what stereotypes people have of various nationalities and both genders.

Recently I posted a photo of myself with some friends, including Emiratis and Saudis with whom I grew up. Someone from Canada commented on how "lucky" I was to have such "rich" friends. But who said all Khaleeji women are rich?

Just the other day I met two women, one Saudi and the other Emirati, who for years have each been balancing two jobs to help take care large families of brothers and sisters, because their fathers have fallen on hard times and are heavily in debt.

Stronger and more determined than their male siblings, they each took on the role of head of the family, and have been doing it quietly, protecting the family honour and never complaining.

For a recent wedding, the hard- working Emirati woman ended up borrowing a dress from one friend and jewellery from another, so that no one picked up on the fact that her family had fallen on hard times.

"I have to do this, we have to keep up an image that everything is OK. There is almost like a standard that every Emirati feels they have to live up to," she told me. When asked why doesn't she simply appeal her family's case to a sheikh, she got upset. As long as she can work and can handle it, why go beg? she asked. This is a matter of pride and dignity for her.

There are many cases of women, from the Gulf or elsewhere, who make the best of their situations, but we hear about them only rarely. They often just struggle in silence.

It is interesting to note that often those with the smallest problems tend to shout the loudest to make them sound bigger, more for their own sakes than others.

Then there is the issue of marriage and love.

When all you have heard growing up is that you have to get married to be happy in your life, what happens to you when that approach simply doesn't work out?

There is a religious component to it, because in Islam it is said that when you get married you complete half of your religion.

But what happens when there is no naseeb (luck) or qadar (fate) or if simply you have not met Mr or Ms Right? Or perhaps you have met the person you were sure was the right one, but it didn't work out.

Well, an Emirati woman I met just this week has found a way to be "happy without a husband" and to have a family without having a spouse: she took in and is raising an orphan girl.

"She is my baby, she is my daughter. I love her so much," says the single Emirati mother who, upon reaching 40, realised that Mr Right might not show up in time for her to have children of her own.

While it is of course harder to raise a child on your own than in a couple, it is not impossible. Whenever she is in doubt over something, she simply calls up her married friends with children, and asks for advice.

Having a full-time job, this woman hired a nanny to look over the child when she is working. When she is home, she is devoted and dedicated to raising her girl.

While adoption is not permissible in Islam, different types of fostering exist, under which a child can be taken in by an Emirati family and raised as an Emirati. Some sheikhs and sheikhas have within their homes many orphans whom they have raised as part of their families. The orphan doesn't end up carrying the same last name as the foster parents but is raised in the family.

The amazing ladies I have mentioned have proven that life is not over if one doesn't get married. They push on, help their families, raise new families, smile and taking each day as it comes, with great pride.

There is no such thing as a typical Emirati woman. Actually, there is no such thing as a typical woman.

There are exceptional people everywhere, regardless of nationalities and gender, but we can miss seeing them if we are too busy looking for ways to fit people into categories.

rghazal@thenational.ae

On Twitter:@arabianmau