x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

A husband should not be needed for a woman to receive care

Despite what people like to think or say, it is still a man's world ? particularly in this part of the world

'Excuse me? Excuse me," I said to the group of female and male nurses sitting sipping tea and coffee at one of the desks in the hospital. One of them looked up, glanced at me, and ignored me. "Hey, excuse me, it is an emergency!" I said a bit more loudly. Nothing. A man came up next to me and with one clearing of his throat, got a nurse to immediately come to his aid.

I waited until he asked his questions and left, and then I tried to get the attention of the same nurse. "One minute," she told me and disappeared into the back. One minute passed, two minutes, and then five minutes. "Please, I just need to know which room my friend is recovering in," I said. Nothing. No one came to my aid. Such a simple request was turning into a great nuisance. That is when I wished I had a "husband" who could stand by my side and demand service and people would respond. Despite what people like to think or say, it is still a man's world ? particularly in this part of the world.

The minute I raised my voice a bit and tried to sound firm, I got the "evil-eye" from everyone. I could have sworn that one of the male nurses mumbled something under his breath. Finally, a doctor passed by and I apologised to him for disturbing him over such an easy yet apparently tedious matter, and asked him how to find out where people recovering from a simple operation are put up. He looked at the same nurse who had been ignoring me and told her to assist me and to actually "take me" to the patient.

The nurse didn't look pleased. This reminded me of a similar incident where being a single woman was a disadvantage. It actually happened twice to me, and also to several other single female friends of mine, when trying to get a table at a restaurant. Just a few days ago I went to a restaurant in one of the fancy hotels here to try to get a table for me and my friends, who were coming from Dubai. "Reservations?" the hostess asked me.

"No, but could I make a reservation now as my friends will be arriving soon from Dubai?" I asked sweetly. "No free table," she said, adding: "We are fully booked." The restaurant was completely empty, except for the staff and waiters, and just maybe, around one of its corners, I may have seen a couple sitting at one of the tables. "We can go in now and then leave before the dinner rush?" I suggested. This was about 6pm.

She snapped at me and said: "No, sorry." I left and my friends and I ate at another restaurant in the same hotel. This time the host was a man. I'm not sure if that is what made a difference, but I noticed that sometimes women are more aggressive to each other and less helpful. Interestingly enough, the following week I ended up with a male friend of mine at the same restaurant with the same rude hostess.

Same situation, and same day of the week. We had no reservation and the rest of the group was arriving a bit later. "Reservations?" the hostess asked. Déjà vu. "No, we would like a table for four," said my friend. "OK, this way," she said with a big smile and showed us a table near a window. It wasn't enough that her mannerisms were different, but the fact that she was so attentive and helpful made me wonder if it was a gender thing after all or the simple fact that single women are not taken seriously.

I polled a few of my single male friends to find out if they had ever experienced the same problems, and they all told me that they never faced the same difficulties as single women in getting tables, services, and their questions answered. Perhaps it is the way we single women ask for things? I know I have caught myself hesitating and probably sounding unsure of myself when the person I faced was unfriendly.

I certainly felt that single women are treated worse in the Middle East when I heard the following story. My friend Leila recently went to hospital for a simple medical procedure requiring general anaesthesia. She told me that after the medical team had prepared everything and she was dozing off, "everyone just left." "I just felt very alone and vulnerable," she said. She believes that if she had a partner, then that experience would have been easier on her.

I have tested this theory out, and there is a sort of security blanket effect that comes out of having a male colleague, partner, friend, tagging along with you in public. Growing up in the Gulf, a "mahram" ? a male family member that accompanies a woman as her guardian ? was "expected" to be with me as a single woman during visits to Islamic or official institutions. Even though that has changed a lot, there are still some remnants of that tradition. I know for sure that it has affected me, as I find that I do walk more confidently if my brother or father is by my side.

@Email:rghazal@thenational.ae