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Are you insulted by the woman-only queue?

Eva Fernandes explores the hidden implications behind Dubai's special women's-only queues.

October 30, 2012 9:49 by

I have always had mixed feelings about the UAE’s special ‘Women-only’ queues at government offices, telecoms and utility services. The time-conscious/impatient part of me loves to get a legit excuse to jump the queue. And given the terribly long human chains which snake about some of the government offices here, you would understand the fleeting moment of happiness one would feel being allowed to walk past the blurs of tired men.

And yet, the moment is always fleeting for I am never fully able to enjoy the comfort being in a ladies’ only queue. For reasons I have never been fully able to articulate, I always feel uneasy about using gendered queues—in fact, I remember waiting my turn for my Emirates ID until the attendant on charge barked at me for standing in the wrong line (something I did intentionally). As I stumbled forward past the men who had been my companions in boredom and impatience for the past half hour, I tried to put my finger on why I felt so uneasy.

And though I have on occasion tried to explain the source of my discomfort at this preferential treatment, I have always been unsuccessful. After all, when compared to its neighbors, the UAE ranks highly for its empowerment of women in the workplace and the realm of education. The special treatment at queues are meant to help women and not oppress or offend them.

The counterargument? I have had several, but nothing made the opposing view more clear than the following coupon.

I received this coupon when I went to an Etisalat kiosk at a mall. When I was given the coupon by the grumpy heavily mustached man who was guarding the kiosk, I burst out laughing. Is this a joke? I could not decide whether I was more amused or more offended by the coupon.

‘Ladies and Special Needs.’

SPECIAL NEEDS? As in, similar considerations being made for people with physical limitations extended to people who have the special need of being a woman? Could one then extend the consideration of the special parking spots reserved for drivers with particular handicaps, to having special parking spots for women?

I have always had a bitter taste in my mouth for the special privileges women in the UAE are entitled to and the ‘Women and Special Needs’ association has made me keenly aware of why such considerations are really a double-edged sword.

Whatever your stance of politically correct vocabulary, it isn’t difficult to see why grouping women in the same category as those with ‘special needs’ is inaccurate. It does a disservice to the capabilities of fully-able women and also to those who have ‘special needs.’

Having been in this country for more than 20 years, I am keenly aware of the cultural precepts which give birth to such policies. I understand too, they come from a genuine place of consideration and understandings of respect.

Yet, given the changes the city is experiencing with women joining and constituting for a significant portion of the workforce, perhaps similar changes should be reflected in the policies?


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  1. Tanya on October 30, 2012 10:16 am

    I actually like having a women section only… and don’t find it offensive to be grouped under the same with the ‘special needs’ because as you know there are very few people with special needs, at least expats, who will actually queue in line to pay their bills, get their EIDA, etc. It does look funny when you first see it, but think of it as an advantage, rather than a ‘dis’advantage. I just wish women could then also park in all those empty and so many disabled parking spots ;)
    Which now reminds me, I need to renew my car registration…

  2. dismanirie on October 30, 2012 11:04 am

    I would rather see lades in a separate queue than barging to the front of a mixed-gender queue on the presumption that they have a right to be served before men.

  3. Katrina on October 30, 2012 11:09 am

    Welcome to UAE (you must be new). You now live in a different culture where ladies and men are more segregated than in your Western culture. Clearly you are not aware of this, as you didn’t make any reference to that in your article.

  4. Sunil Krishnani on October 30, 2012 1:50 pm

    There has never been a clarity whether the empowerment of women in this region means gender equality and the need to take women seriously at the work place. My take is that you have build and test the tenacity of the character by putting all of them whether women or men through the same rigours of life.
    The results and the outcome in the corporate world will not be kind to a women just because of the Gender. To build a resilent economy, it is important that everyone has to go through the rigours of life in the same way.
    Such preferrential treatment will only tend to differeniate the genders and will always leave the women as a weaker class.

  5. Zainab on October 30, 2012 2:35 pm

    I love the special privileged and time saving options for woman – would not change it at all. In my opinion, its no different than a man opening a door for a woman, ladies first or any of that traditional chivalry.

  6. Zainab on October 30, 2012 5:42 pm

    Are you insulted by the woman-only queue? Extremely bad article accompanied by a very provocative and insulting pic. Whoever suggested, initiated or wrote this stupid article has no common sense at all. Why do you put your nose in our Muslim culture and tradition affairs? You don’t like it? Fine, you don’t respect our values and tradition then go away, go back to your country and queue and mix all the men in queue as much as you wish! Enjoy one man in fornt of you and another man at your back with all the odor and breathing and sometimes intentional or unintentional body touches! who cares about you or about how you do feel.. Either you respect us the Arab Muslim conservative women or you just go away.. I will always stand in a women queue only and if there is no one, I will definitely create one for myself and still queue on my own..

  7. Rhea on October 31, 2012 12:46 am

    Zainab, I think in Dubai the women’s only queue is a privilege and not a right afforded to women as there are many instances of mixed queues in Dubai (supermarkets, cinemas even airport lines!).

  8. Nada on October 31, 2012 12:47 am

    Like some previous comments pointed out (rather rudely) above, the creation of “Ladies Only” lines or sections is not meant to denigrate the status of women, it comes from a cultural or religious sentiment, where segregation is preferred (or obligated), and sometimes on the part of both genders.

    As for the “Special Needs” ticket, I would be offended by it, but that means I would have to take it seriously. It’s a poor choice of words, to say the least, but I don’t think its intention was to say that “Ladies” and “Special Needs” are one and the same. I think the point is to say that they are separate, but both belong to the category of “These People Get to Go First.” I wouldn’t expect a disposable receipt from a kiosk at the mall to understand the subtleties and the impact.

    Now the debatable topic is — should able-bodied women get preferential treatment over men in these situations? The answer depends on where you are on the feminism scale.

  9. chaz on October 31, 2012 6:04 am

    with the sort of people like Zainab around, these queues will sadly always be there.
    Maybe there could be a women only queue in the mall at 0400?

  10. interesting on October 31, 2012 9:31 am

    errrr Chaz, you need to show a little respect! This is not your culture so hush your beak before you going about criticising other peoples! Zainab I respect your culture and no one has the right to question it. What a stupid article indeed based on nothing more than primitive thought incapable of disolving itself of western sentiment that quite frankle has no place in a middle eastern culture. EACH TO HIS OWN! there is no global right or wrong on what culture is correct, but it is most certainly incorrect to pass an opinion on anothers as who is to say your culture is perfect! Nada’s points are spot on. Good to see there are some intelligent people here.

  11. Tim Sands on October 31, 2012 11:02 am

    First, a separate Q for women is not exclusively a Muslim thing. This is time a time honored tradition among Hindus and you see ‘ladies only’ everywhere in India. (I wonder if the author is from India – appears so, judging by her name and language syntax – in which case her assertions are curious.) Second, the question is whether women find the culturally driven need to be segregated. If they do (and this is not a happy convenience) their wishes must be respected.

  12. anon on November 1, 2012 5:55 pm

    There’s a fine line between chivalry and the degradation of women. Clearly the author is talking about the attitudes to the latter.
    While women’s queues are for dedicated services and to some extent to safe guard their personal space (and avoid issues of sexual harassment) it is not justified to categorise women in the same category as people with special needs.

    The implication is that women are considered unfit or in need of special attention because of their gender. Nevertheless this discussion remains void because there is no evidence that ties this perception with the provision of separate queues for women. Also, it can be argued that the intent was never to put special needs people and women under the same umbrella but simply to combine these two demographics (which likely make up the minority of their daily visitors) and offer dedicated services…


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