Economy/Economic Policy

Families Vie With Boom Economy for Emirati Women

Sunday, April 9, 2006

In the United Arab Emirates a booming economy and progressive government offer women wider employment and educational opportunities. But some young women say traditional attitudes keep them from venturing too far from home.

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The push for women's advancement is from the top, an Australian man who teaches in a UAE women's college, told Women's eNews. "The reticence is in the families."

Shamsa, who like most Emirati women wears an abaya, the national dress which consists of a black robe worn over a woman's clothes, admits she would prefer not to.

"If I had the choice and if it was OK with Islam, I wouldn't wear an abaya," she said. "We are like any girls in the world. We like to wear nice outfits to go out and do our makeup and do our hair."

Abayas, she adds, are uncomfortable in the stifling desert heat.

Better to Be a Boy

Asked whether she would rather be a boy, she says, of course.

"Men have more freedom. Whenever boys do anything," she says, people say, "'He's a boy, he can do whatever he wants.' Men can study abroad, they can go to the moon and come back and no one will say anything."

Nayla Al Khaja, 28, the country's first independent female filmmaker, said these cultural hangovers are to be expected.

"In any normal society, it takes a long time for people to go through cultural change," she said. She adds that the country has opened up so quickly that "people cannot comprehend what's going on around them because it's happening so fast. Forty-five years ago people lived in tents, and now they have elevators in their homes. It's crazy."

Al Khaja, who at age 18 was prohibited by her family from attending the Fine Arts Academy in Scotland but later went on to study film in Canada, describes a huge generation gap between herself and her parents, and believes it will take three more generations before families treat girls and boys as equals.

For now, Al Khaja is the first woman producing a feature film in the country and runs two production companies, but remains living at home with her family because she cannot get her own apartment.

"It isn't illegal," she said. "But society wouldn't allow it."

Kara Alaimo studied journalism and gender and sexuality at New York University. She works in press relations for the New York City Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting.

For more information:

Women in the United Arab Emirates:

United States Department of State's Middle East Partnership Initiative:


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