International women’s day – my experiences as a white blonde woman living in Dubai.
I’ve lived and worked in Dubai for almost two years. Many people are curious to ask me about my experiences as a female, particularly as a blonde, white female in this part of the world.
Dubai is home to around three times more men to women, largely due to large inward economic migration from Pakistan, Indian and Bangladeshi workers- construction workers and taxi drivers. This does mean that when a western woman (and possibly any woman but I can only go by my personal experience) walks past a group of construction workers, you are often subjected to glances, sometimes open stares, usually of simple curiosity, but it can feel a little uncomfortable. But it isn’t that they mean harm, they probably don’t even realise how staring in big groups might make me feel vulnerable.
I do generally feel very safe in Dubai, particularly in the busier areas. In England in a nightclub it’s not uncommon to be ‘touched up’ or ‘groped’ which is basically sexually harassment and / or sexual assault. A guy walks past, and his hand can be up your skirt, this type of harassment happens quite frequently in that’s it’s almost seen as inevitable albeit disgusting.
In Dubai this hasn’t happened to me once. In nightclubs if a man touches you inappropriately, by speaking to the security he would instantly be removed from the venue and probably hauled to the police. Often groups of men aren’t allowed in nightclubs unless they are in a mixed group. I like knowing that we have this power, and men act differently knowing that one wrong move and they can land up in jail.
People in the West assume that women are treated like “second class citizens” in Dubai. But I haven’t experienced that at all. In actual fact Dubai is taking great steps to empower women. Sheikh Mohammed the ruler of Dubai, is a great believer in equality. Women have key positions of power in Government, and this forward thinking attitude is filtered down to the rest of society. Women are seen as a key part of society and just this year the maternity leave for women was extended from six weeks to three months. In 2012 the UAE passed a law calling for mandatory female representation on all boards of governmental corporations and law. So when people assume women don’t have any say and hat their opinions aren’t valid that simply isn’t true.
People in the West are caught up on the dress of the women here, as some see the abaya as oppressive. But it really is a cultural thing and actually quite beautiful, the men also wear their local dress- the kandura. The locals are extremely proud of their culture and very nationalistic and wearing their local dress is one way to stand or as a local amongst a sea of foreigners and to maintain their identity.
The women don’t all look like clones of each other- their abayas are often beautifully but subtlety adorned, their heels revealed and their striking Arabic make up impeccable. How do they get their eye liner so perfect?!
People ask me “do you have to wear a headscarf in public?” No, but I just make sure that in public places, other than the beach I wear appropriate clothing. This is out of respect and trust me many tourists and residents don’t do this. But by covering shoulders and knees and chest you are just following a basic modesty code, it really is rude not to comply. So for example if I go to the Mall I will wear a cardigan.
Now for the best aspects of being a women in Dubai .. women have their own allocated space in public areas! For example ‘women only’ areas on a bus or metro where men are not allowed to sit or stand! We all know the controversies in the UK and USA of ‘man spreading’ – the act of men sitting on the bus or train with their legs wide open, taking up more space and making women feel uncomfortable. I often avoid sitting next to a man for this reason, and so having a women only space is a safe space for women. We feel more comfortable in every way. Yes we shouldn’t need it, but in reality we do and we appreciate it.
So in summary what is life like as a white woman in Dubai? Pretty good actually! In many ways much better than in England. Thank you Dubai for having me!
Hi, I live and work in Dubai. I enjoy getting out and about and seeing what Dubai has to offer, travelling in my holidays and spare time – prepare for blog posts about this, and cooking vegetarian recipes. I am passionate about travel and animals.