Wednesdays are for Women

A Wednesday is the best day of the week to be a woman in the UAE. Hotels close their gym and swimming facilities to men, and women, for once, have a space where they can relax without the constant stares they are otherwise subjected to.

Yesterday morning I had the Hotel Ayla’s facilities all to myself for an hour-and-a-half. And it was, to say the least, blissful. I had a hard time deciding between the sauna, steam room, jacuzzi and swimming pool, but managed to work my way systematically through all of them, before my solitude was shattered by the chattering of a group of young Emirati women who also came to enjoy the freedom encased in a Wednesday.

As I was relaxing in this male-free zone, I found myself pondering the trials and tribulations of being born a woman in this male dominated society. The constitution of the UAE states that before the law, women and men are equal. This means that they have the same legal status, claim to titles, access to education, the right to practice the profession of their choice and the right to inherit property.

The reality of life does not always reflect the constitution though, as it is still the father, brothers, and eventually the husband of a woman who dictates the freedoms she will be able to experience in her life. Although young women are free to study whatever they want, and even receive grants and bursaries from the government to pursue their studies overseas, it still depends on the men in their lives what job they will eventually hold, if any. A young woman will only be allowed to move from the protective environment of her parents’ house when she gets married. So taking a job to further her career in another city and moving into her own apartment will most probably never be allowed.

Women 40 years ago did not attend school, yet they now make up 70% of university graduates. When given the opportunity, and supported by their families, they excel in this male-dominated society. Women now account for 66% of government jobs, while four women hold cabinet portfolios. There are 65 women diplomats working at the ministry of foreign affairs, 3 women ambassadors and 1 female consul general. There is a whole list of statistics that can be quoted, but in order to avoid boredom, I won’t.

The bottom line is that women in the UAE have opportunities that their grandmothers never dreamt of, and although many of the customs here to us, who hold different values, seem stifling, women here in general are active, productive and happy members of society. We observe and judge another culture from our own cultural bias and values, and I believe it is unfair to make gross generalisations when talking about issues like the status or perceived happiness of women in any culture. Like elsewhere in the world women here are also sometimes mistreated or discriminated against, but to think that women in the UAE suffer the same fate as women in some other Muslim countries, would simply be unfair towards a country that is supportive of the well-being of all its citizens.