Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ladies First

I know many of you  were concerned when we first announced this adventure that I would have a hard time over here as a woman (or lady as they say here). The good news so far is that a lot of the stereotypes, while not completely wrong, are certainly exaggerated. Yes, many women wear traditional dress, but from what we're told, this is a choice rather than a requirement. There are certainly no governmental or religious laws requiring covered heads and abayas (except in the Mosques). I've also seen plenty of ladies walking equal with their husbands, although it is true that there are very very few public displays of affection and there are signs discouraging this outside some malls and other businesses. Ladies hold public office, positions of leadership, drive cars and pretty much occupy most of the positions we do in the states. What is very true is that men outnumber ladies significantly (almost 3 to 1 in Abu Dhabi) and that is noticeable when walking around the city or taking public transportation.

One interesting observation has been the "ladies only" sections you'll see everywhere. There definitely is a cultural preference to allow ladies the option to be separate from the men. My limited understanding is because we're so outnumbered, there is the potential to be easily harassed. One of the Epic employees is originally from Lebanon and she agrees that this can be a big issue there, but that it doesn't seem to be a problem here in Abu Dhabi unless you dress provocatively or hang out in bars (and we all know how prone I am to doing either of those! :) Anyway, the result is that you'll see areas reserved for ladies only all over the place. The busses reserve the first 2-3 rows for ladies, the post office and traffic department have separate seating areas and there is even a ladies only section of the beach (but I think this might only be certain times of day or certain days of the week). I hate to admit it, but it's actually kind of nice, especially on the bus. I always know I'll have a seat and in the front.

I've also noticed that, as a lady, I can sometimes make more progress than Brian. For example, we were at the Post Office trying to get Brian's Emirates ID appointment and the man said he would have to call a number and wait at least 3 weeks. Then he saw me and asked if it was for me or for Brian. He said I'd be able to go right in, but Brian would need to wait 3 weeks!! A clear indication that ladies aren't in any way "second class citizens" here, but rather are respected and given partial treatment on occasion. Hmmm, I could get used to that! ;)

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