Amira Sajwani - Family values

Does society rely on family values or are our values shaped by society?

Ever since the UAE celebrated its first half-century of independence earlier this month, I have been reflecting on what we mean when we talk about family values and the impact these values have on social behaviour.

Have strong family values shaped the Emirates or does our nation in fact shape its people? I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot during recent weeks, and I’m convinced that the answers to these questions are in no way mutually exclusive.

When I hear the words ‘family values’, I think of the core principles instilled in me by my parents and wider family from a young age.

These words also bring to mind the values according to which my husband and I are raising our child, teaching her the importance of becoming a productive, thoughtful and compassionate member of society.

Even so, it would be naïve to think that a family could shield its members from outside influences, nor would such behaviour be desirable. As the old African proverb goes, “it takes a village to raise a child”.

While it’s impossible to overstate the role that immediate family plays in shaping children’s values, neither should we underestimate the contribution of the communities in which our young people are raised.

This is why I cannot help but feel thankful that my child and I have been raised in the UAE.

As the Emirates continues to celebrate its 50th year, it seems to me that strong family values have played a vital part in the incredible success that our young nation has achieved so far.

At the same time, I am equally convinced that our country’s leaders have had – and continue to play – an essential role in engendering strong values within their people.

Indeed, the importance of strong family values to the long-term prosperity of UAE society is reflected by the extensive support afforded to Emirati families.

The Ministry of Social Affairs, for example, offers a plethora of services, with focuses ranging from gender equality and people of determination to digital wellbeing and sports.

Our leaders have also established the Coordination Council for Family Policies, an entity specifically created to work on proposals for the development of family-oriented initiatives.

Family values in the UAE also benefit from the importance our nation places on diversity, with people of more than 200 nationalities choosing to call the Emirates home.

Not only does this demonstrate the global pull of our country, but it also means that those of us born here have had countless opportunities to learn about the values of people from every corner of the world.

We, in turn, have been able to share Emirati values and culture with friends, neighbours and colleagues from every imaginable background.

A diverse society like that of the UAE offers an array of societal benefits. Few will be surprised by the fact that diversity leads to greater social coherence and wellbeing, for instance, but did you know that it also makes us smarter and can even make societies more profitable?

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of parents to instil strong values in their children. I know from personal experience that the values I hold dear – and those which I am working to instil in my own child– came primarily from my parents.

And we must always keep in mind why it is important to ensure our children grow up with solid ethics: not only because it will give them the best possible chance of fulfilling their individual potential, but also because those with strong principles are more likely to make valuable contributions to future society.

At the same time, we should be cautious not to overlook the role played by wider society in shaping the character of our young people.

We who are fortunate enough to live in a nation like the UAE, which invests in its people and places family values at the heart of its policy-making decisions, can have confidence in the long-term future of our younger generations.

Just as prosperous nations depend on their people, so too do those people rely on their nations to empower and cultivate strong family values.

In my opinion, this makes perfect sense because I see the Emirates as one big global family.