Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 March 2018

Cross-dressing women targeted in Dubai campaign

Dubai police are launching a campaign against cross-dressing, which they say is a 'dangerous' practice.

DUBAI // Police are launching a campaign against cross-dressing women.

The Government says boyat - loosely translated as tomboys - are indulging in a dangerous practice.

Officials from the police and the Community Development Authority said yesterday they would work together on plans to combat boyat.

"The security awareness administration at Dubai Police is currently planning the launch of campaigns targeting transsexuals, boyat, domestic violence and sexual harassment," police said in a statement.

Fears about boyat first surfaced in 2008, when Dubai Police called on the Government to carry out research into the trend.

Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, the chief of Dubai Police, at the time denounced the practice, blaming co-educational schooling and calling on the Ministry of Social Affairs to determine the cause and extent of the problem.

Major Mohammed al Muhairi, the director of the criminal awareness department at Dubai Police, said yesterday: "The important issue is that along with the launch of the campaign, warnings have to be set for such activities and clear punishments have to be put in place.

"We are also collecting data on sexual harassment cases against youths to identify who are the most victimised, and then campaigning to them and raising their awareness to their rights.

"The campaigns will target youths and be divided into four segments covering transsexuality, boyat, broken families and sexual harassment. We are co-ordinating with the Ministry of Social Affairs and will be launching it soon."

Boyat met news of the campaign with indifference. They said they were already the target of similar efforts on school campuses and elsewhere in public.

"I didn't become a boyah because of something at school or because I met a boyah in a social gathering," said a 20-year-old Emirati woman, who declined to be identified by anything more than a nickname, Kool Boyah. "I am a boyah because of what happened at home."

Universities and radio and TV programmes regularly discuss this subculture, often saying parents are not involved enough with their daughters as they hit their turbulent teenage years.

"We are stigmatised and misunderstood," Kool Boyah said, adding she was abused by a male relative as a child. "I wanted to be tough and appear so through my choice of tomboyish clothes and attitude."

Boyat often wear masculine attire under their the abaya and shayla in public.

The phenomenon is also found in other Gulf states, with blogs, websites, online discussion groups and Facebook groups devoted to the movement.

Dr Alia Ibrahim, a family counsellor and life coach who has studied the issue, said "the reasons for the development of such behaviour are to rebel or to stand out, or even to change their identity".

Misguided sexual orientation, social differentiations between males and females, multiple marriages of the father and sexual assaults or harassment also contributed, Dr Ibrahim said.

According to Islamic tradition, it is forbidden for men and women to act like the opposite sex. Such behaviour is considered a deviance from God's plan and from nature.

"Men likening themselves to women and women to men, whether in clothing or the way they talk, walk or in their demeanour and appearance, is despised by any person whose nature has not been corrupted," a Friday sermon warned last year.