x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Abu Dhabi sends a message on marriage

With divorces on the rise, civil groups and government entities are joining forces to offer workshops to cement family values.

ABU DHABI // A campaign to promote family values and encourage young couples to work at marriage will be launched in the capital next week. The Abu Dhabi Campaign for Social Cohesion will begin on Tuesday with a series of activities and events based around the theme "We're building a family... We're building a nation", it was announced yesterday.

Fatima al Rashidi, head of the Tawasel Centre for Training and Family, which is organising the campaign, said the objective was to encourage stable family life, especially where there are children involved, reported WAM, the state news agency. The project is under the patronage of Sheikha Latifa bint Zayed, the centre's honorary president. Workshops and free marriage counselling will be offered at technical colleges throughout the emirate, WAM said. Lectures and seminars dealing with family conflict and raising awareness about the importance family cohesion will also be held. Encouraging families to spend more time together and couples to avoid marital strife and divorce are the main objectives.

The campaign will also involve several government entities, including Abu Dhabi Police, Abu Dhabi Electricity Authority and Abu Dhabi Municipality. Adel al Rabeeah, Abu Dhabi Municipality's public relations manager, said it was important for government departments to highlight the need to take marriage seriously and to invest in family life. "We are happy to participate and it is part of our social responsibility," he said. "I think young people need to learn how to have a successful marriage in the same way that you might [prepare for] a driver's licence."

The campaign will be launched at Abu Dhabi Municipality headquarters at an event that is expected to be attended by senior government officials including Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, according to WAM. During the eight-day campaign, which starts March 10, social workers and other specialists will lead workshops and training on the culture of marriage and how to reconcile issues, with sessions planned to take place in the capital, Al Ain and Al Gharbia.

Free marriage-counselling sessions will be offered at the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Zayed University, Dubai Women's Association and the University of Sharjah. Well known local actors, singers and sport personalities are expected to participate, to raise awareness about the importance of keeping families together and resolving conflict within the family structure. On March 16 a group wedding is being planned for 50 couples, all of whom have special needs. The women's reception will be held at the Abu Dhabi Intercontinental Hotel, and Sheikha Latifa is expected to be in attendance according to WAM. The men's reception will take place at the Armed Forces Officer's Club.

The Campaign for Social Cohesion is the latest initiative to address divorce rates in the country and to encourage couples to work at their marriages. Last month the General Women's Union started offering premarital classes to prepare young men and women for marriage. Similar services are also offered by the Marriage Fund, which holds seminars on married life. Experts say that in some cases, young couples do not fully appreciate the responsibilities that comes with marriage and may enter into the contract too soon. Financial issues are also said to place a strain on marriages, with some couples starting off their married lives in debt. Emirati men who marry women from the UAE are given a Dh70,000 (US$19,000) government bursary, but the actual cost of the wedding is often far higher.

Divorce rates in the country are understood to have increased in recent years, although no official figures are available. The Judicial Department is in the process of compiling divorce figures, as well as trying to identify why people are opting to leave marriages. Under Sharia law, couples can go through a three-month temporary separation during which time they are supposed to work on their differences if the husband says "I divorce thee". If he utters the phrase three times the separation is final.

zconstantine@thenational.ae