Thursday, September 25, 2008

Women in the UAE

The United Arab Emirates is a Muslim nation. While it is not nearly as strict as Saudi Arabia, its still a long way from being Los Angeles.

The UAE has done a lot to liberalize their laws to cater to foreigners. Considering that expats outnumber the locals 4 or 5 to 1, they almost have to. But recently the police have been on a campaign to remind us all that it is still a Muslim country, and as guests in their country we must respect that.

The local men and women wear traditional Islamic dress, to varying degrees.  The older they are, the more they usually cover up.  The younger Emirati guys sometimes will wear the white robe, but to cover his head he’ll switch to a baseball hat.  The local women get the option of going with a head wrap, veil with a slot for their eyes, or a complete veil.  I can understand the typical abaya (which covers just their hair), but in my opinion, the complete veil is way too extreme. How on earth is a man supposed to find his wife in a crowd of women?

The expatriate women can wear whatever they want, so long as its appropriate. No miniskirts or excessive cleavage, obviously and unfortunately.  The contrast with the local attire is strongest on the beach. Foreign girls are wearing bikinis, and the local girls are fully covered.  The following picture gives you an idea of how ridiculous it looks to me.

A Saudi woman enjoying the sunshine.

I was talking with some Muslim women about their clothes.  Some of them wear the abaya (full length black dress) with their hair covered, some just cover their hair and wear regular clothes. They understand that the western world thinks they are being oppressed by this, but they disagree.  The purpose of covering up is to keep men from gawking at them when they're out in public. The only man they want ogling them is their husband.  And their husbands feel the same way. Something else to keep in mind is that the Muslim men wear pretty much the exact same thing, except in white.

The UAE shares a border with Saudi Arabia, which is a country that really needs to wake the hell up and get with the times. I just read about a woman who was raped by 7 men, and SHE was imprisoned for 6 months and received 200 lashings. I don’t know what kind of fucked up logic they used to justify this crap, but it has to stop. When the woman appealed because she felt her punishment was unfair (I think she has a case), they doubled the sentence.  The men received no punishment.  

These laws and behaviors should be internationally condemned.  What kind country would be friendly and supportive to a government that does such terrible things?


The UAE has had its problems with screwed up laws but is slowly getting better (better being a matter of opinion.  My opinion, more specifically).  It is, however, still technically illegal for me to have a girl in my apartment who isn't my wife (hasn't stopped me yet!), and its illegal to be gay. Sodomy holds a minimum sentence of one year in prison. Still, its better than parts of Africa where they will kill gay people.  Interesting side note: Sir Elton John just held a concert here a month ago…

A recent case in Dubai was made a big deal to try to raise awareness. Two British folks were apparently having sex on a beach (NOT the drink, although they had consumed plenty of them earlier) and were caught by a police officer.  He was lenient with them at first and told them to get dressed and leave immediately.  He came back later and they were still there.  The woman got violent (apparently she didn’t like being interrupted) and struggled with the officer as he arrested her.  She was hit with a 4 year prison sentence.  The newspaper didn’t mention anything else about the man – I’m assuming he was let off with a stern warning and a high-five.

These kinds of things make me appreciate America.  But its important to remember that America had sexist (not to mention racist) problems of our own, so its just a matter of time before these Middle Eastern nations come around to figure it out.  Maybe being a democracy would help speed things up, but that’s also up to them - you wont see the USA involved in any nation building anytime soon.

But America is the other extreme.  Millions of women have eating disorders trying to reach an unattainable level of “beauty” (if you call showing off your rib cage beautiful).  I can imagine that a lot of them would have much higher self esteem if it were socially acceptable to wear a full black abaya and not have to worry about trying to fit into a pair of size 2 jeans.  Or getting breast implants, nose jobs, and I’ve even heard of some men getting peck and calf implants!  It is disturbing that people in our country are that insecure about their appearance, to which you must put a portion of the blame on our society.  But just because society dictates something is good, doesn't mean you have to follow it!  Well, in America at least. I wouldn't recommend trying that in Saudi anytime soon.

I assume that, like always, the best social model is somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.


MaryJay said...

It is hard to fathom that SA is so backwards, isn't it? When we were in Memphis last year visiting the MLK Memorial, I realized it wasn't really that long ago that we treated other Americans like crap.

tgt said...

Chris: you are such a good writer. You write as you speak and reading your blog post is like having a conversation with you - so I don't miss you anymore! Thanks!

steve-o said...

Chris: I love reading your perspective. I hope the local police don't know about your blog.