x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Why shouldn't women and camels get special treatment?

'Ya horma! Go to the women's section," or worse, "Ya horma, cover up! You are bothering the men in here." I have heard such injunctions often.

'Ya horma! Go to the women's section," or worse, "Ya horma, cover up! You are bothering the men in here." I have heard such injunctions often. "Horma" is the commonly used term for woman in the Gulf states and any "instruction" following that term can bother me. Often I just end up shrugging it off. But over the years, I have started to take advantage of the fact I am a woman, and like many other women, actually enjoy some of the benefits of being one in the Gulf.

When I was given certain instructions before - particularly when uttered by random men telling me, "the horma", to go here or sit there, I would defy them, thinking about "equality" and how women and men fought side by side in Islamic battles and how it is silly to still segregate the two sexes in these modern times. But now I just smile and appreciate the fact that we often get different treatment than men.

Before I get shot down by feminists and reformists, let me explain what I mean. When there are massive lines at a bank or a government institution or even at the cinema there will often be a much shorter line and quicker service for any women that happen to be there. It's great. I get to cut queues and can do it efficiently and without disruption. Of course, it can annoy the heck out of the scores of men that have been there forever to see a woman just stroll in, get service in minutes, and walk away with a smile. I have even seen women walk in and feel entitled to better treatment and quicker service and help.

"But I am a woman," I overheard a friend of mine tell a government official once when she was told to go stand in the queue with everyone else. I know for a fact she would have never said this if she had been back in Canada. The fact that this kind of, well, for the lack of a better term, "gender discrimination" is disappearing from many parts of the region is widely labelled as a sign of progress and respect for human rights. Fair enough, but I can recall an incident in Lebanon where men pushed us, a group of women, to move ahead. One of them even told us off: "What, just because you are a woman you think you should have your own line?"

Well, yeah... What is wrong with a bit of courtesy and chivalry? Besides, it will reduce the congestion and if the men in my life are nice to me, then I can always run some errands for them and save them some time. Earlier this week I was driving along the Sheikh Zayed Highway, often a road plagued with speed demons and crazy drivers, when I saw the cars in front of me slowing down and switching lanes. I thought there must be some accident and that the cars were avoiding the wreckage. But no, as I came closer, I saw two camels strolling near the highway. They were not on the road, but on the desert right next to it, but people were not taking any chances.

I have never seen people driving so cautiously on that highway. But perhaps they were fearing for their own lives. A camel is a big animal. Or they could have been fearing the repercussions of hurting a camel here. A 17- year-old boy went to jail for a month and half and will be deported for shocking a camel with an electric device. I applaud such punishment and wish the same would be done for anyone caught abusing any kind of animal.

But I know camels have an especially important place in this country, with road signs erected here and there warning of "camel crossing". I love camels. I grew up around them in Saudi, and I reconnected with them here in the UAE. Recently, hanging out with a family at their farm, one of the camels with an amputated foot (because of cancer) came over to snuggle up next to us. It was one of those sweet moments between man and their pets, showing the great trust between them. Because really, "the pet" could easily crush the man if he chose to sit on him.

It was also the first time I saw a camel skip. His legs were tied up and he couldn't run too quickly but he would turn around, stealing a glance at his master to see if he was watching. It was the funniest thing. But on a more serious note, once my uncle and I were on our motor bikes driving around in the less developed parts of Dubai - this was six years ago - and I remember how we almost killed ourselves trying to avoid a camel that happened to be wandering around. Needless to say, it was the last time I road a bike.

If drivers want to, they can and do pay attention to their surroundings. So perhaps, one way to make the roads safer is to put up more camel crossing signs. rghazal@thenational.ae