Mind the Myth

How much do we really understand about Emirati culture and how many of our beliefs are misconceptions? Local literary group Untitled Chapters stands up against the stereotypes
Monday , 23 April 2012
Afra Atiq
Afra Atiq
Shaima Al Shamsi
Shaima Al Shamsi
Fatma al Bannai
Fatma al Bannai
Amna Al Falasi,
Amna Al Falasi,
Shamma al Bastaki
Shamma al Bastaki

THE MYTH: Emiratis have mountains of money
By Afra Atiq
A Western expat recently said to me; “Emiratis swim in rivers of money, this has made them arrogant and materialistic.” As shocking as this statement is, rather than my first instinct of lashing out irrationally, I replied, “Yes, some Emiratis spend excessively but the majority of us do not.” That we splash our cash with no care, reason, or second thought is just one sad example of the misconception some expats have about our culture.
On a separate occasion I was asked if Emiratis are materialistic because they have mountains of money, but this is not usually the case. What tends to happen is that as our society is very family-centred, children often live with their parents until they get married, so they have fewer bills. Also, the UAE is blessed with a government that provides education, health care and other services to Emiratis, so if someone works, the bulk of their salary is left for them to spend as they please and that is why we appear to be more comfortable financially. Also, the UAE is a relatively new country; the older generations lived here before oil and tourism took off so it’s only natural that they would want to provide their kids with the things they didn’t have. It saddens me that Emiratis are judged this way. If people looked beyond the surface they would meet some incredible Emiratis. If you looked at me would you know I am a spoken word poet? Would you know that I am involved, like many others, in community initiatives? Isn’t it sad that you could miss out on knowing some great Emiratis because you misjudged them?

THE MYTH: We don’t like expats
By Shaima Al Shamsi
When on the town, we can tell who resides in Dubai and who is just here on vacation. The former are the ones who understand our values and take part in the community; they may have kids in school here and are accustomed to the way of life Dubai has to offer. The latter are those who choose not to respect the rules regarding appearances in public. Emiratis want to feel safe when taking their kids out, knowing that they will be in an environment that is friendly, safe and respectful. Having said that, the Emirati community itself ranges from conservatives to liberals, and also adopts new but subtle trends. For example, rather than staying in the UAE during Ramadan, a majority of Emiratis travel abroad for the holy month to other Islamic countries. Another trend is that big families travel during Eid as well, which moves away from the tradition of celebration at the family home. Despite the tolerance, there is an issue that has created sensitivity between locals and expats - jobs. Emiratis complain about having their dream jobs given to expats. On one hand, it could be helpful if the Emirati community took advantage of the knowledge around them, but employers make them feel intimidated for not having expertise. I don’t blame expat employees for that, but it creates tension between unemployed degree-holding Emiratis and expatriates. If employers would pass their knowledge on to the Emirati community, it would create a better atmosphere.

The myth: We can’t stop shopping
By Mariam Al Mansoori
The mould that society has stereotyped Emirati women in is a rigid one to break; it sort of downgrades us as females. One common myth is that all we do is shop; that it’s our purpose in life. And yes, there are local women who wear brands from head to toe but their achievements are far more than swiping a credit card. Each and every woman plays a big role in developing this country and raising its future; there is no harm in being ‘fashionable’ because while she is doing so she never neglects her country, children, and job. Let me fill you in. Take Marwa Al Shaibani, a university student who was inspired by children and not Chanel. She is the founder of an organisation called Young Eager Steps, which is a non profit organisation that helps those in need. She not only gave back to the community, but also opened a gate for women like us to volunteer. Maitha Al Maktoum is another - she’s the founder of our writing community, United Chapters, where Emirati women who love to write come together and meet other people with the same passion. These women have inspired me and are shining examples of females that fill their lives with far more than their credit cards. With them in mind, I know achieving my goals is far more important that hitting the malls. We don’t deserve to be stereotyped as shoppers when we have much more to offer. Bear the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” in mind and find out the truth. Talk to us, get to know us and then you will have a clear concept of what Emirati women are.  

The myth: We’re a scary bunch
By Fatma Al Bannai
One of the funniest and saddest statements that I’ve heard is that expats are “scared” to speak to Emiratis. I never fail to be surprised by this each time I hear it, especially from someone who has spent decades in the country. Yes, Emiratis generally like to stick to their own community - perhaps it’s because of us being in a minority - but this does not mean we are unapproachable. If you look traditionally at Emirati culture, we have been known to be very friendly and hospitable to everyone who wants to interact with us. Sure, you can find some who don’t wish to intermingle, but you will experience this in every country and Dubai is becoming more open and accommodating to change each day. I feel proud to see all of the development happening around me and how much it keeps hold of its traditional values, yet manages to be one of the most diverse cities in the world. The majority of Emiratis would be more than happy to interact with expats so long as the expats respect the rebellious, cultural and traditional aspects of their country. Once both parties understand each other, I think we can build friendships between Emiratis and the rest of the UAE.

The myth: We’re all second wives
By Amna Al Falasi
I have always been fascinated by the UAE’s history and rapid growth and how these developments have affected marriages in Emirati society. I’ve gained a deep understanding on marriages from observing real cases, and I’ve discovered that there’s a lot of stereotypes around. Here are four of them:
Misconception 1: Emirati women ask for very high dowries that could reach up to Dhs500k.
Fact: Most Emirati men cannot afford a huge amount of dowry as not all Emiratis are rich.
Misconception 2: An Emirati woman is encouraged to marry a man 10-15 years older than her.
Fact: Sure, the above statement was practiced twenty years ago. However, this is not the norm anymore.
Misconception 3: Emirati women are expected to get married at a young age and start a family.
Fact: The average age of marriage for women of higher education is 28 years, and for those with little education, it is 18 years. 
Misconception 3: Emirati men have many wives
Fact: Polygamy in the Emirati Muslim community stems from the Quranic versus that it’s permissible for a man to marry more than one wife, and only up to four wives. However, if the man does not treat his wives fairly and is not able to support them financially then he is allowed to marry only one. Polygamy is not a rule but an exception.
 

The myth: We don’t want jobs
By Shahd Thani
Most people believe Emirati nationals get their pick of dream jobs after university. They believe Emiratis are paid their weight in gold. That is their perception; this is mine. My sister, who is a cartoonist, asks me “Why are my dreams dying in Dubai?” and I feel my heart shattering. I see friends from different majors struggling to find jobs. I don’t know a single friend who isn’t struggling with slim job pickings. I would understand if my own degree in English Literature and Translation held me back, because there is the misconception that my only choice for a job is a teacher. All I have ever wanted was an entry level job where I could be a productive member of society and I can find peace in my decisions. But what about those talented Emiratis who can’t? What about those who are incapable of settling? We, the Emirati nationals, were given an education and told to dream big and we can achieve it, but we need to be nurtured. All any of us want to be are the kind of people His Highness the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan imagined, and we can’t even get our foot in the door.

The myth: We’re trapped under the abaya
By Shamma K. Albastaki
“Confined in their own dungeons of black.” 
Yes, this is something I heard from two foreigners who were standing in front of me in a queue one day. They were referring to another woman in an abaya - and I happened to know that lady; she has a PhD in Chemical Engineering. It bruised my heart to realise that this was how some people perceived a respectful Emirati woman in an abaya. Stereotypes are poisonous; I am a proud wearer of the abaya, but I don’t see myself as “confined.” On the contrary, my abaya is my liberty; it’s my modesty. To me, it symbolises where our true faith lies, for it’s a token most Emirati girls of age have chosen to cherish, despite the changing times. Many people believe your clothes reflect your personality, and that the abaya does not do this justice, but women are adding colours and patterns to their abayas, and it is gradually making a statement in the fashion industry. The abaya is a beautiful piece of clothing, and I hope it will stop being so misinterpreted.
 

The myth: We’re lost in the workforce
By Salwa Abdulla
 ‘Emiratisation’ – an approach taken by the local government to increase the participation of UAE nationals in the workforce - has been a major concern for the last few years. A 2011 survey* showed that 72 per cent of the Emirati women workforce held degrees, they represented more than 65 per cent of the Emirati workforce in the federal government, and 75 per cent in the educational and health sectors. However, the utilisation of Emirati women in the workforce comes with challenges. One of these is achieving a work/life balance, which forces women to limit themselves to certain sectors. Another challenge is the cultural barrier which doesn’t give UAE women the freedom to commute (often to another emirate) to search for jobs. But efforts are being made to combat these issues. The UAE federal government has started to introduce part-time jobs for employees which will help towards with the work/life balance. Emirati women in the workplace still have a long way to go, but we are constantly making progress.

● For more information on Untitled Chapters visit untitledchapters.com

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