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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

But then, I graduated. Barely two weeks post graduation, I heard of the engagements of no less than 10 of my female friends. Literally, Facebook relationship statuses changed from single to engaged in a matter of days. Potential marriages were often engineered by parents or other family members, but they were also desired by many of my female colleagues. Yes, I know, an engagement, or a marriage, by no means spells the end of a woman’s career. But anecdotal evidence makes me cynical on the possibility of these women entering the workforce.

Why? Because engagements generally translate to a wedding within six months and soon enough a pregnancy and then another. Of course, it is possible that they can rejoin the working force thereafter, and I sincerely hope they do. But there is a tendency within the local culture for women to get university degrees from expensive reputed universities with almost no intention of working afterwards. Instead, they feel a very real pressure to settle down. Then, because these women often come from affluent families and marry into more affluence, there is no need for them to have an income to support their family.

What probably makes the case of the Gulf different from other places is the factor of choice: only a small majority of my newly engaged friends said they felt forced. The rest were completely aware and accepting of what was expected of them. And those not embarking on marriage could of course expect the “You need to start thinking about these things” speech from the same people. Perhaps it is a matter of culture, but it is rather remarkable how a woman could go from “My NGO will help solve world hunger” to “My Mohammed doesn’t like the pangs of hunger” in a matter of a few months.

It is all very well for us in the UAE to say the Gulf is working to empower women, but thanks to some cultural practices women are too often standing in the way of themselves. There needs to be recognition of the unfortunate practice of a woman getting a qualification she will never use in a professional capacity. It is a crying shame to be locking up some of our brightest minds behind domestic doors, even if they bolt the door themselves.

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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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