Oppressed OR Cherished? Being a Woman in the U.A.E.

There are many misconceptions about the status of women in the Middle East. I hope to debunk some of these stereotypes by giving you a different perspective of women in the Middle East.

Me: I’m moving to Dubai!

Friend: Do you have to wear a burqa?

Mainstream media plays a role in perpetuating these misconceptions instead of educating the masses. I’ve come across hundreds, if not thousands of misinformed or just plain ignorant people. Some of these people are highly educated professionals, who simply choose not to learn about any culture other than their own. They are satisfied judging the rest of the world based on common stereotypes.

Let’s clear something up

Muslims all over the world are not the same. They are not defined only by their religion but by their culture as well, and let’s not forget each individual’s unique personality.

The most obvious way one can identify a Muslim woman is through her dress. So let’s get right into it.

4 Types of Conservative Dress:

These are a few of the different types of outfits Muslim women wear; this is by no means a complete list.

1. The Burqa

A burqa is a loose garment worn by Afghani women that covers every part of the woman’s body except at the eyes where there is a grill type section of mesh so the lady can see. The burqa isn’t a trend you will see in the Middle East; it isn’t part of that particular culture. Most people I’ve met assume this is what all Muslim women wear.

Afghani women wearing burqa’s
Photo Credit: Independent
2. The Hijab

The traditional headscarf worn by many Muslim women called the hijab.

In Islam, the purpose behind the hijab is to cover the lady’s hair. It is not a form of control as most uninformed people assume.

One of the reasons Islam requires a woman to cover her hair is; when she is being courted, a man should not want her for her beauty, but for who she is as a person. And so, hair being a large part of a woman’s beauty should be covered.

Note, that a woman cannot be forced to wear the hijab. It is a sacred decision formed between her and God. Ultimately it is her choice.

Yves St. Laurent fashion collection for Muslim women in 1976
Photo Credit: Islam & Info
3. The Niqab

The niqab is the face veil worn by some Muslim women. It is not a requirement of Islam. When I moved to the U.A.E. I encountered many women who wore the niqab. So I asked them why?

Some of them say, because they didn’t want unsolicited attention from men. Others said because they want to be only for the eyes of their husbands. And there were some who told me it makes them more mysterious!

But all of the women I spoke to said it was their choice and that no one could force it on them.

Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 3.43.58 AM
The face veil worn by some Muslim women is called a niqab
Photo Credit: Pinterest

Don’t get me wrong, I am sure somewhere in the world there is a woman forced to cover up who chooses not to, but I assure you, that woman is not in Dubai.

4. The Abaya

The abaya is a loose conservative dress worn mainly by Muslim women in the Gulf region. Other countries in the Middle East, like Egypt and Morocco, have their variations of the abaya.

d&g abaya
Dolce & Gabana abaya collection can be purchased at Harrods
Photo Credit: Daily Mail

The abaya is not always black. It comes in many colours and styles. It is a fashion statement as much as it is a form of modesty. Dolce & Gabbana, the Italian fashion house, recently came out with a hijab and abaya collection. They are not the first luxury brand to do this. The French fashion house of Yves St. Laurent came out with a collection for Muslim women in 1976.

Now that that’s out of the way….

Women are VALUED in Dubai

What does that even mean?

Well, for one thing, you are guaranteed your personal space. Even in a crowded mall or at the infamous Dubai Fountain, men will make every effort possible not to bump into you or cut you off. If their shoulder accidentally brushes yours, a man will lower his eyes and apologise automatically.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a concert or a football game in North America and some pervy man tries to rub himself against me. No one would dare violate my space in Dubai.

Some benefits of being a woman in Dubai:

  • At a grocery store, the butcher shop, or anywhere else the employee will always carry my parcels to my car
  • Expedited lines at the airport
  • Women and children only carriage on the metro
  • Men always hold the door open for you and let you step through the door first

Basic nuances of graceful manners and pristine etiquette speak wonders in this traditionally Bedouin country. At a restaurant or a café, while I sit with girlfriends I am guaranteed no unsolicited attention. No one can approach our table unless invited.

Even though I do not have children yet, I do have younger sisters.  I feel comfortable when they are out on the town because I know they will be safe.

Your presence demands absolute respect just because you are a woman in Dubai.

Women are free to study what they want where they want and are free to work though they aren’t obligated.

Ladies night

Just about every major city in the world has its version of ladies night. In Dubai, this night is Tuesday. Looking for a night on the town with your girlfriends? Free drinks, free cover and no line-ups at bars or clubs are just some of the perks of being a lady in Dubai on a Tuesday night!

One of my favourite spots is, The VIP Room Dubai located at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel is part of the world famous brand with branches in Monaco and Ibiza. This club has very friendly staff and an intimate atmosphere.

Not just at the club

Wild Wadi Water Park also offers ladies day. No men are allowed in the park during ladies hours so that women can be free to wear bathing suits without  being gawked at.

Some hotels in Dubai like the Al-Maha Desert Resort and Spa offer a private pool in your room.

I do not wear rose coloured sunglasses when I look at the world. I am a very well travelled individual, and I know that not everywhere in the world has this type of freedom. Oppression still exists in some of the worst ways today in various parts of the world. I assure you, that is not the case in Dubai.

Did you know? The UAE’s cabinet has a female population of 27% compared to the US’ 24%

So, if you are going to visit a different country please take the time to educate yourself about its culture.

Who do you think is more oppressed?

961ff7c91e702c790e5de379f5ab99fd OR kimk

Photo Credit (Left): Daily Mail
Photo Credit (Right): ABC News


9 thoughts on “Oppressed OR Cherished? Being a Woman in the U.A.E.

  1. Thank you for this beautifully written succinct article. You touched on so many critical issues and silly questions that people ask. I will definitely be sharing with family & friends!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words! It is an important issue that mainstream media refuses to touch upon. Your “Life in Kuwait: Being Oppressed as a Woman”post was my inspiration!

      Liked by 1 person

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