Moving to a new city can be a challenging experience. More so for women. Despite our best efforts, women still face issues and challenges more than men with safety and equality being the foremost concerns. Located in the UAE, Dubai is a modern city that is advancing rapidly and adapting to the needs of its population, which represent hundreds of nationalities. Women may find it difficult to envision life here. Thanks to the various myths and anecdotes they hear. In this blog, I hope to clarify and address a few of those to provide a realistic picture of what it is like living in Dubai as a woman.
‘Can you drive?’
‘Do you have to wear a burqa?’
‘Are you oppressed?’
These are some of the questions I often get asked.
In my experience, life in Dubai as a woman has been empowering as I have lived here for several years. Reem Bint Ebrahim Al Hashimy, the Minister of State for International Cooperation, Sheikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi, Minister of State for Tolerance, and Dr Raja Easa Al Gurg, a Dubai-based businesswoman, are just some of the many women holding powerful positions and owning successful businesses in the city.
Before I forget, yes, no and no.
Gender equality is a top priority in the UAE, and many initiatives are being taken to improve women’s lives. A major support program for working women is provided by the Dubai Women Establishment, which collaborates with governments to encourage legislation that empowers women. In big corporations and government agencies, for example, it is now a must for women to be represented and included on the board of directors.
The UAE aims to become one of the top 25 countries in the world when it comes to gender equality. As part of its efforts to achieve this, the UAE Gender Balance Council was created to ensure Emirati women play a leading role in its development.
Currently, there are nine female ministers in the UAE, making up 27.3% of ministerial roles, one of the highest in the region. Further, women make up 66% of public sector jobs and 30% of senior leadership positions.
In Dubai, workplace harassments are rare and there are plenty of support establishments in place if issues arise. Under the national law, discrimination based on gender, race, or faith is prohibited, and such behavior is subject to serious investigation and appropriate action.
Women here work across a range of industries at all levels of seniority. I’ve also met women in senior roles often at earlier stages in their career than you might expect in the UK. This is a reflection of the excellent progression opportunities that women have here.
There are, however, a number of job listings that state whether they are seeking a male or female applicant, which is illegal in the United Kingdom.
In Dubai, women are largely safe. According to a Georgetown University study in 2021, the UAE holds the greatest percentage of women who feel safe in their communities worldwide. 98.5 percent reported they felt safe. That is the highest percentage worldwide.
Compared to London, where crime rates are much higher, I find this to be one of the best things about living here. You don’t have to look over your shoulder or feel afraid when you walk alone. Of course, certain situations require caution. The majority of areas are extremely safe, however. I personally haven’t had any experiences where I’ve been really scared or concerned.
Although Dubai is a relatively liberal country in comparison to other areas in the region, there are some policies that must be adhered to. Public nudity is prohibited. There is no issue with swimsuits and bikinis on the beaches and in swimming pools. They are not as acceptable outside of these environments.
There’s also the misconception that women in Dubai have to cover up from head to toe. Although this is not necessarily true. Modest dressing is encouraged. If you choose to wear a dress or a skirt, ensure that the hemline is not too high. The rule usually applies when you’re in public areas, like malls. But you can usually wear whatever you like when you’re going out to hotels or clubs.
Women-only days are held in a variety of venues, including amusement parks, cinemas, and more. Throughout the week, there are Ladies’ Days and Ladies’ Nights at restaurants and clubs. Women can take advantage of special deals or free treats such as drinks and discounts. These events are generally open to men as well, but they won’t receive the same offers as women.
Several platforms, including WhatsApp and Facebook, have female-only groups for mothers, single women, and working women. I have personally been welcomed into these groups and found them helpful. They schedule meetups and share recommendations on a variety of subjects. I got the chance to learn and I found a support network where I could ask questions about things I don’t yet know about living here.
Dubai features many designated women-only areas in public spaces and on public transport. Public transportation like the metro, tram, and buses have designated areas for women and children. And, of course, Dubai’s famous Pink Taxis – cabs driven by women, for women.
There are even parks dedicated to ladies and children only. Men are not allowed during certain days and hours each week. And there is an all-female team of staff. Even though it has received some criticism, Pink Priority areas and events allow women to feel comfortable and safe, especially those from modest or religious backgrounds.
There are ladies-only salons all over Dubai, too. It’s great for people who aren’t comfortable with men working in salons! Mixed salons are also scattered throughout the city if you aren’t bothered by this. The same goes for spas, pools, and saunas. The majority of saunas are separate but swimming pools and spas are generally mixed.
There is also the question of whether women are permitted to own property alone in the UAE. Obviously, the answer is yes. It is estimated that 30% of UAE property is owned by women. There are many women living here alone as well. This is not uncommon and they tend to feel very safe secure doing so.
Life in the UAE is often sensationalized in the Western media. Depending on where you get your information, it’s understandable why some people have such different impressions of what life is like here. It’s inevitable that there will be differences in lifestyle between two countries or cities, but Dubai will make you feel comfortable and empowered. As a woman in the UAE, you can feel safe, protected, and free to live a full life and reach your full potential.
This article is part of the expat diaries series. Click here to view the rest of the series.