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  • Financial Empowerment of Women in the United Arab Emirates
  • Toni Briegel and Jaye Zivkovic

Introduction

Contrary to stereotyped beliefs, Arab women in the Middle East have control of their own money. Men are expected to pay all household bills and are not allowed to touch any funds with which women may have entered the marriage. Muslim women and their money are protected by the tenets of Islam. They have the right to spend their money in any way they see fit, even to contribute to the running of the household if they desire to do so. They may own property in their own name and invest or spend their own money as they choose.

What is fiction and what is fact in this ideal world of female empowerment? We surveyed selected women nationals of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) living in Abu Dhabi and invited a small number to participate in focus groups to determine the extent to which they actually control their personal funds. The essential question governing the study was, “How do Muslim women handle their money?” The purpose of the research was to examine the beliefs and culture of Muslim women with regard to acquiring, managing, and investing money. Do they have funds of their own? Are they totally controlled by the men in their lives? What freedoms do they enjoy? Are there areas of need that are common to all women that might be addressed through education? Results of the survey and an analysis of comments and perceptions from the focus groups are presented below.

Subjects, Method, and Results

Subjects were volunteers including married and unmarried students at a women’s university, female members of their families, and female teachers and staff in schools in Abu Dhabi. The focus groups, a subgroup of [End Page 87] the survey group, were made up of married graduates of the university and married teachers at a local model school. All subjects were either college graduates or had attended or were currently attending college. Seventy-eight percent of subjects were between 20 and 30 years old. Forty-five percent of responders said they lived with their parents, 21% lived with their husband’s parents, and 34% lived in their own house or apartment. Fifty-five percent attended university, 31% stayed at home, and 14% worked at a paying job. Sixty-eight subjects (married/unmarried) responded to the survey, and nine married participants in the survey group interacted in three focus groups.

An English-language survey with an Arabic translation was prepared and administered to all subjects. The Arabic version was provided upon request. Most subjects used the English version, but some used the Arabic version in conjunction with it in order to make certain that they understood the items. Less than ten subjects responded to the Arabic version. Unmarried subjects were requested to respond to questions about husbands according to their expectations about their future husbands. A university student fluent in both English and Arabic assisted as interpreter during focus group discussions. While most subjects were bilingual, access to interpretation ensured better understanding of some concepts. Focus groups were asked the following set of questions:

  • How do you feel about money? What does it mean to be successful?

  • Do you teach your children how to take care of money?

  • How do you do this?

  • Do your children know how to handle money?

  • What makes you think so?

  • What do you think the role of women’s money is?

  • How much money do you give each child per week?

  • Who do your children ask for money when they need it?

  • For what purposes do you save money?

  • How does your religion influence the way you handle money?

Survey Results

Table 1 indicates how much women know about their personal finances and whether they have access to credit facilities. Seventy-nine percent of women said they manage their own money and 48% said they follow [End Page 88] a budget. A distinction was made between “family” money and “your own money.” Men seem to be very much in charge of family money, which accounts for the fact that 70% of subjects said they do not manage the family’s money. The UAE...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9579
Print ISSN
1552-5864
Pages
pp. 87-99
Launched on MUSE
2008-04-26
Open Access
No
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