x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Dress codes are just common sense

There is nothing wrong with wearing a bit less; it's just a matter of where and when.

It's crucially important in our region to "save face" and not offend others. People dealing with Arabs need to know that we try, even in straight-forward business dealings, to avoid saying "no". This is not because the word does not exist in our vocabulary, but because we feel that rejecting an idea or a suggestion may cause offence. And since we would not like to be treated that way ourselves, we do our best not to offend others.

However, sometimes discreet messages are not understood or are just ignored, testing our patience. Then it's time for stronger messages. It looks to me like we have reached this point in the area of the dress code issue. We have witnessed heated discussions on the issue recently, sparked by a campaign initiated by some Emirati ladies who had simply had enough and felt they needed to vent their frustration.

The media provides a platform to discuss these cultural issues, which must be conducted respectfully if we are going to improve intercultural harmony and understanding. The media have a great responsibility as facilitators of this dialogue. Journalists and editors should act as sensible moderators.

Unfortunately, in recent days I have been hearing and reading things that take a different approach. As an Emirati, I can't stay quiet when I hear a cry for help - and the "decent dress campaign" from my Emirati sisters is just that. The campaign is portrayed as an infringement on the freedom of those who obviously don't care about our cultural values.

Multicultural societies such as ours can only work if everybody works to reach a compromise that is universally acceptable. Nightclubs and mosques have co-existed for decades and it has worked out fine for most of us. A man in a kandura will be denied access to almost every bar in the country. As far as I know, nobody has a problem with this and it is widely accepted that wearing a kandura in a bar is inappropriate.

So why is it not seen as appropriate for malls to deny access to people who turn up in outfits suitable for beaches and bars but not for public places in an Islamic country? There is nothing wrong with wearing a bit less; it's just a matter of where and when.

The UAE does not have a law that says "you will go to jail if you are wearing a miniskirt in a mall". However, we do have cultural codes and expect guests in our country - whether they are coming for a short time on holiday or they have come to live with us - to respect our ideas regarding what is appropriate and what is not.

I am sure nobody will deny that the UAE is showing great respect and tolerance towards guests coming from different cultures, and that we try to make them feel as comfortable as possible.

I think people living in a multicultural society should be able to put their own cultural background aside and develop an attitude of tolerance and respect towards the values and sensitivities of their host country.