Sara Mohammed, an Emirati woman, says about a friend of hers. This 36-year-old friend, also Emirati, recently agreed to marry an Arab man nine years younger to her.
Sara mentioned about this friend while pointing to a graver issue. Around 60 per cent of the Emirati women fail to tie the nuptial knot even at the age of 30. “I know some other women who are still unmarried even at 40,” says Sara.
This is not the concern of Sara alone. The Federal National Council has debated the issue for weeks and appointed a consultative body to find a way out to what they believe could be a serious demographic problem.
While more than eight million people stay in the UAE, only 950,000 of them are UAE citizens. Recent government statistics show that around 20 per cent of the UAE men have married expatriate women.
The UAE Marriage Fund, which provides financial assistance to those who want to marry, said that 87 per cent of respondents blamed large dowry rates for low marriage rates among Emirati women.
According to the statistics of the UAE Ministry of Planning, the number of unmarried Emirati women over 30 years of age has grown from 20 per cent in 1995 to 50 per cent in 2008.
“The problem here is in their families, who set stiff and unaffordable conditions,” says Sara.
Eman Al Soom, a 30-year-old Emirati woman, says the mounting cost of wedding is the main reason behind delayed marriage among the UAE women. “Some families stubbornly keep delaying marriage until their daughters and sisters grow old.”
Hamda A. says she knew some men who were asked to pay a dowry of Dh100,000, and even more. “I have come to know about some Emirati men, who got married and divorced only to get assistance from the Marriage Fund.”
Echoing the same, Aisha M. says some Emirati women do not accept a dowry less than Dh70,000. “The amount of the dowry differs from one region to another whereas sometimes the wedding cost goes up to Dh300,000.”
Another Emirati woman, identified only as E.A., says most of the Emirati families in Abu Dhabi spend as much as they can in wedding ceremonies. “Some do like to celebrate for two days or more though some young men can’t afford such skyrocketing costs.”
Afra A. urged the Marriage Fund to increase the financial assistance given to young Emirati men and women to help them afford the increasing wedding costs.
“However, they should also develop awareness among young couples about the importance of their new families, and the society as a whole,” she says, adding that in some cases, Emirati women prefer to complete their studies before tying the knot whereas others wish to remain independent or look for better options as most Emirati men are less-educated than their women counterpart.
Khadija A. says the economic turmoil is another reason behind the deteriorating phenomenon. “Strangely, the wedding costs have shot up at some halls from Dh20,000 to Dh30,000.”
Fatima Q. says some Emirati men prefer to marry foreign women because they demand less dowry, and wedding costs are much lower. “The conditions set are also less stiff and are more flexible.”