Summary: JEDDAH: Traditions, a change in lifestyle and an emphasis on material life along with varying levels of liberalism and conservatism are all contributing factors to the rise in the number of divorces in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. According to 2008 figures, the divorce rate in the Kingdom was 20 percent.
By FATIMA SIDIYA | ARAB NEWS
A recent study of divorce rates in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries shows that divorces have risen and are continuing to increase.
Recent statistics show that the total divorce rate as a percentage of all marriages in Gulf countries has also reached 24 percent in Bahrain as of 2007, 25.6 percent in the UAE (2008), 34.8 percent in Qatar (2009) and 37.1 percent in Kuwait (2007).
The study, however, did not include Oman because of a lack of new statistics and cooperation, said Mona Al-Munajjed, who conducted the study.
The study, entitled “Divorce in Gulf Cooperation Council Countries: Risks and Implications,” stated that divorce rates are almost equal to marriage rates among those aged 20 to 29, suggesting that young couples are more likely to divorce in the initial years of marriage.
Al-Munajjed, a sociologist and senior adviser at Booz & Company, a management consulting firm, said they relied on official national and international divorce statistics as well as interviews with experts in the region and divorced women.
Although confirming that GCC countries share the same traditions, she said they now vary in terms of liberalism and conservatism, which affects the relationship between men and women and thus affects how couples meet or divorce.
“Unfortunately there is a lack of statistics, not only when it comes to divorce but also with regard to women’s work and education,” she added.
In this context she called on establishing a statistics database for GCC countries to help researchers distinguish between divorce rates among different social groups, including young girls, educated women and other groups.
The study emphasized the need to understand why the rate of divorce is increasing in GCC countries to help policymakers identify new patterns that may affect the future social development of GCC countries and find ways to curb the increasing number of marriages breaking down.
The study claimed that divorces have a damaging impact on children’s emotional and mental development and even their health. Women suffer physical and psychological abuse at the hands of ex-husbands who refuse to pay alimony or allow them custody of their children.
Others may face social and economic discrimination. Many others suffer from the social stigma of being a single mother.
The study also clarified that changes in lifestyle and consumer behavior drove some couples into falling in dept, which can also result in divorce.
The Gulf’s patriarchal societies are also contributing to the rise in divorce as social roles evolve.
“Young people are still not able to choose their partners freely and the family, especially the father, remains the authority in determining the marital choice of sons, and even more so of daughters.”
A lack of communications skills is another challenge that new couples face because of “strictly gender-segregated (societies).”
The study also suggested that as women in the GCC countries enjoy greater social, financial and psychological independence, they might also have higher expectations of what they want in marriage. This in turn might lead to divorce if the woman is not satisfied with her married life.
In Kuwait, official data from 2007 shows that whereas 46 percent of divorces occur between couples that both work, this percentage increases to 54 percent when the husband works and the wife is jobless.
In Saudi Arabia, research shows that most men prefer a wife who works, especially if she holds a secure job as a teacher or in the government.
The study also highlighted that women in the GCC countries are still subject to discrimination due to the lack of legal enforcement mechanisms for ensuring the implementation of their legal rights.
The study recommended that more should be done, not just by governments, but also by other members of society.
The research stressed the need for a better understanding of the issue.
Governments should increase research into divorce rates, and the establishment of statistical databases on different social groups, as well as surveys of judges, divorced men and women, schoolteachers, mental health professionals, and social workers.
Other possible tools include courses on family relationships and social bonds, and government and non-governmental organization (NGOs) awareness campaigns.
The study also called for the establishment of advisory centers for couples to seek counseling before and after marriage and divorce.
These centers would encourage family dialogue and organize pre-marriage training sessions for couples to make them aware of women’s legal rights and the mutual requirements and responsibilities of married life.
When divorce has already occurred or cannot be prevented, other steps are needed to make sure that families do not suffer. One solution may be to strengthen legal protection for women and children.
Policymakers could also improve women’s access to legal assistance by encouraging women to join the legal profession and by appointing female lawyers to judicial positions, the study said.
Copyright: Arab News 2009 All rights reserved.
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