Saturday, May 19, 2012

UAE: Emirati women and workforce in a clash of culture


"There is a great trust between me and my family members in general that if they were uncomfortable or something strange happened, we talk to each other and identify our issues." 

Ahmadiyya Times | News Watch | Int'l Desk
Source/Credit: The National | UAE
By Ayesha Almazroui | May 19, 2012

Cultural hurdles are keeping many Emirati women out of the workforce or limiting their choice of careers, despite the great progress being made.

That is the opinion of women who have taken up careers - and some who have been prevented from doing so by male relatives.

Sheikha Eisa Ghanem, a member of the FNC from Umm Al Quwain and a school principal, said some Emirati families followed a tradition that prevented women from mixing with men or working in the same environment.

"Most women in the UAE are allowed to work anywhere, even in a mixed environment," Ms Ghanem said. "Some fathers and husbands even help them to find a job.

"However, some tribes are still conservative in terms of norms and traditions."

Sara Humaid, 22, a recent graduate of Zayed University, said she had a friend at university who wanted to study international relations but her brothers opposed the idea.

"She had taken the introduction course to the international relations [degree] and she was good at it," Ms Humaid said. "She had the background that she needed to study it.

"But suddenly she pulled out her papers and joined the College of Education to become a teacher. She told us later that her brothers don't want her to work in a mixed environment.

"I don't feel like she is into education and she often seemed depressed when we saw her."

Aisha Al Hammadi, 24, graduated from The National Institute for Vocational Education in Dubai with a diploma in business administration. But Ms Al Hammadi said her husband would not allow her to work in a mixed environment.

"I got a job offer from a government authority but because it's a mixed environment my husband asked me to refuse it," she said.

Men have varying opinions on whether their wives should work.

Mansoor Al Mansoori, 23, a government employee from Abu Dhabi, said married women should not work outside the home.

"If a married woman went to work, who would take care of her children?" Mr Al Mansoori asked.

"Who would do the housework? Who would look after her husband when he comes back from work?"

He said a woman could not successfully combine work and home life.

"Where would her children be in the morning while she is at work? Would they stay in her parents' house?" Mr Al Mansoori asked.

"She can't reconcile between those two unless her children are grown up."

This sort of conflict in a marriage can lead to divorce, said Ibrahim Al Tamimi, an Emirati lawyer.

"Those who hold on to the old norms and traditions don't want to see their women working," said Mr Al Tamimi, adding that many women come to him for a divorce because of this reason.

"This leads to many problems between them."

AbdulAziz Mohammed, 29, a government employee, said he had no problem with the women in his life working, be it a wife, sister or daughter.

"They know well what's allowed and not allowed in religion," Mr Mohammed said.

But there are certain jobs of which he would not approve, such as working in a non-Islamic bank or for a party organiser.

"There is a great trust between me and my family members in general that if they were uncomfortable or something strange happened, we talk to each other and identify our issues," Mr Mohammed said.

Ms Ghanem said women could help to solve this problem by speaking to family members, gaining their trust and using a role model to support their point of view.

Mariam OS, 21, a graduate of Zayed University, said her parents restricted her career options, allowing her only to choose a women-only environment. She said she took this as a challenge and used it to motivate herself.

"It actually made me aim higher and have higher expectations of myself as to where I'm heading, or what sort of job I'm taking," Mariam said.

Now she works as a leadership and social-media officer at Zayed University's women's campus in Abu Dhabi. Her goal is to become the provost of the university.

"For now, I'm happy working at a place that I want to run one day," Mariam said.

Jane Bristol-Rhys, an associate professor at Zayed University and the author of Emirati Women: Generations of Change, said the issue was more prominent a decade ago and things have since changed.

"Many interns were concerned about this issue," Ms Bristol-Rhys said. "They wanted to work in a female-only environment.

"But now more people realise that a women-only environment is from the past."

newsdesk@thenational.ae


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