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Women and work in the Gulf

Women and work in the Gulf

The notion of women going to work in the Gulf is gaining traction; so much so that it could be women themselves now creating the biggest barrier, at least in the UAE.

November 30, 2010 1:00 by

The Gulf News this week reported developments at the second annual Women in Leadership WIL forum. The bottom line? There is still plenty of room for women in the private sector. And it’s true, there is. But as women like Fatima Al Jaber, chief operating officer at Al Jaber Group, realize, there are more complex barriers than people realize. Al Jaber was voted by Forbes Arabia the 7th most influential woman in the Arab world in 2008; speaking to Gulf News at the event, she said “I also feel that at times, women are their own enemies.”

Growing up with an education that focused on women’s struggle for equality, the importance of women’s rights is something I have been always conscious of; but for the most part never really felt relevant to my life. When it comes to high school education, I have no complaints that the boys received better instruction or were offered a more challenging range of subjects. When it came to university applications, again I felt no discrimination of any sort; unlike the women who once had to fight for their right to a seat in university (indeed, many still do), I was confident acceptance into university was based primarily on merit. But it was only after I graduated that I began to notice the presence of gender bias in the UAE – but a self imposed bias.

Having studied journalism, international relations, and political science at a local university, I had the privilege of being surrounded by strong, passionate and aggressive fellow female students. Together we argued, in the very idealistic way only university students can, about the many woes of the world. More importantly, we devised plans to correct them. “My NGO will be able to mitigate world poverty” one might loftily claim, “But my new political order will help achieve stability in the Middle East” was another’s retort. And all the while, very rarely did the discussion about gender discrimination in the UAE creep in.

Not that we weren’t aware of it; I always felt very sorry for the random guy who decided to sign up for Women Studies courses, which generally stirred up feminist feelings. But our feelings were always directed towards the general cause of women. We argued from a standpoint of being privileged enough not to face any of the discrimination, though we felt the responsibility to work for less fortunate women.

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  1. Miss Anne Thropic on December 1, 2010 4:25 am

    A good start would be better maternity leave provisions.

  2. Anupama V. Chand on December 1, 2010 9:36 am

    When I started to read the piece I imagined it was going to be about women realising how working outside their homes was a double-edged sword, because while on the one hand you were expected to fulfill your professional responsibilities, having a job by no means exempted you from your discharging your personal “duties” at home! That is one big reason why a lot of women, in the UAE and the rest of the world, opt to stay at home. I am no big advicate of married bliss and domesticity, but I have to ask this question of the writer – how can you expect anything different from these women? These are the expectations and tenets on which their lives have been built, and they are definitely going to reflect their upbringing in all their actions and decisions. Why are we so astonished? Why do we call this a “crying shame”? It might or it might not, but really, who are we, to be sitting in judgement on what is essentially a matter of personal choice (and that includes cultural choice) in the United Arab Emirates??


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