x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Ask Ali: On women's rights in the UAE

The National's culture columnist on families dining together, whether clothing indicates marital status, and the rights women enjoy in the country.

Dear Ali: Do Emirati men and women eat separately at home? NY, Abu Dhabi

Dear NY: Most Emirati men and women from the same family do eat together.

But as food and especially lunch provides an occasion for chatting and catching up on the latest news, some large families in our tribal systems - say with more than 10 or 15 members - believe it is best to separate the males from the females. That's especially the case if the older brother of the family intends to share stories that shouldn't be told in front of women or children. And many women like to have their own space to enjoy eating and chatting, basically gossiping about us, the male members of the family, and their friends. Such separation does not indicate inequality; if anything, it's about respect and comfort for all family members.

As for non-family members, if you and your husband visit me, you will sit with my wife at the women's majlis and your husband will sit with me at the men's majlis. The families of very close friends often become like one family, so they don't mind sharing one majlis, but men will be seated in one area and women on the other side.

Children can always mingle and play together without any separation of genders.


Dear Ali: Are covered Emirati women all married? NT, Dubai

Dear NT: No, both single and married women wear the shayla and the abaya.

In Islam, females are encouraged to dress modestly in public. The understanding is that loose-fitting clothes that cover arms, legs and hair are appropriate. From the time girls reach puberty, they are encouraged to follow this dress code. Their marital status is not relevant.


Dear Ali: What rights do women have in the UAE? JU, London

Dear JU: If you visit my country you will find that rights here are extended to everyone and that women and men are treated equally.

In Article 7 of the UAE's Constitution, Islam is defined as the official religion and Islamic Sharia as the main source of legislation in the country. Without going into too many details, men and women have the same rights - for example, to have access to education, to move freely, to own property, to inherit wealth and to enjoy personal freedom.

Article 25 states that all people are equal before the law, without distinction in race, nationality, religious belief or social status. De facto we have equality between men and women; when it appears otherwise on certain practical issues, that is due to the fact that men in our Arab society shoulder a bigger responsibility than women, and that we feel our women should be protected and have the right to rely on men to take care of them.

Our society tends to be a bit more conservative and our dress code reflects this. I know that the local dress of our women is widely interpreted as a form of male suppression. It is not. The shayla and the abaya are garments that are rooted in the tradition of our ancestors and are a way to be dressed modestly in public.

In civil and family matters Sharia does differ from the laws in your country, based on our traditional understanding of gender-specific roles and responsibilities. For instance, since it is the sole responsibility of the man to be the breadwinner in his family, he is entitled to a larger share of an inheritance than his female relatives.


Language lesson

Arabic: Ghaim

English: Cloud

Ghaim is singular and the plural is ghuyoom. As in recent days with the changes in the weather, when it gets too cloudy we say, "Eljaw emghayem elyoum" which means "The weather is clouded today".Or "Elsamaa (the sky) emghayem elyoum."