Greetings! Thank you for your thoughts and prayers for my safe arrival. Things are going well here in Dubai where I am participating as a chair for the “Women in Engineering, Partnerships & Professional Development” session on Friday 5 Dec. at the World Engineering Education Forum, and co-presenting a paper for the International Conference on Interactive Collaborative Learning. As many of you know, this blog serves as a virtual postcard to family, friends, colleagues, and readers in general. Thank you for visiting!
I am enjoying my time in Dubai so far. We had our first event today, a reception to open the conference and to honor the student participants of the Global Student Forum, part of the project World SPEED (http://worldspeed.org/portal/index.php/home-10th-gsf.)
The “pink” cab and the “Women and Children Only” train car on Dubai Metro
This part of the world is very conservative, and I have mixed feelings about some of the customs … however, some of my thought may differ from what you might expect me to say. If you know me, either in person or virtually, you know that I am a staunch advocate of equity and inclusion. However, while I am here, I have chosen to be attentive to the local customs, including those that may seem to exclude women’s rights. I took the “pink” cab for women only from the airport. I have been told that the other cabs do not exclude women, but the pink cabs have women drivers and cater only to women. We have been asked to consider the local dress code of covering arms and legs (at least past the knee.) I have chosen to respect this custom. I am not Muslim, therefore I am not wearing an abaya that covers the entire body … that would be inappropriate. However, I was raised in a fairly conservative Christian home, and can appreciate a level of modesty. I chose to travel to the reception at the American University of Dubai via the train system. The train has a car toward the front that is deemed “Women and Children Only” during certain periods of the day. Like the “pink” cabs, women are allowed to ride in the other cars (compartments) of the train. I did ride in the general car once today, however, the “Women and Children Only” car excludes men.
Do crowds warrant defiance, and “silencing” of women?
Since it is National Day in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the trains were quite crowded today, afterall, it is a national holiday. As I waited for the Red Line train between Al Al Rashidiya and Jebel Ali to leave the “Nakheel” station that serves the American University of Dubai, I stood in the section for “Women and Children Only.” Some of my male colleagues from the conference were standing in that section as well, but then there was recognition of the sign and they moved to the left to enter one of the “general” cars. I found the “Women and Children Only” car to be very comfortable. I think that the next set of events and my reactions were surprising. As we neared the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world), and the Dubai Mall, there were masses of people trying to enter the train. I was actually surprised and shocked to see that several men entered the “Women and Children Only” car! Now it’s possible that since Dubai has several visitors, vacationers, and expats, that some men didn’t notice their “error.” However, many of the women in the car were visibly upset that their car had been “invaded” by a throng of men. Some of the women began to say out loud, “This is for women only, you can be fined.” Others kept saying “Women only, women only!” Some of the women turned toward the window. Others moved their position, trying to get as far away from the “invading” men as possible. Some men complied, and they moved forward, pushing their way into the body-crushing, standing room only crowd in the next car. Some men exited the train … perhaps they were going to try to get into another car, or wait for another train.
Why didn’t they move?
I was most surprised at the men who didn’t move. There were some who just looked at the women, chuckled a little, but stayed put. I was upset by this behavior, and found myself “sharing” aloud to some of the men that it was a “Women and Children Only” car. Regardless of other feelings about women and “exclusionary” practices, this car on the train was one where the women had a place. I thought that men who ignored the sign, and ignored the women’s requests were belittling the voices of the women, and deeming their concerns unimportant. If nothing else, there are pictures with a woman and child on the doors of the station cars to designate the compartment, so if there were people who couldn’t read the signs, they could at least recognize the pictures (similar to restroom signs). In my (very humble) opinion, I saw this action of (some) men “not moving” as one that showed a lack of respect for women in general. In my opinion, I saw it as an act of unnecessary defiance, and quite frankly, selfishness. They didn’t seem to be making a political statement where their actions who show some kind of solidarity to say that men and women should be allowed to ride together. No, instead, it seemed like they didn’t want to be inconvenienced, so they decided to ignore the requests … to ignore the women. My thoughts drifted … if women weren’t respected by (some) men on a public train car, what happens in the workplace? What happens in the home? Beyond gender equity, what about following rules, or how about general courtesy? Questions to ponder.
On another note … general photos for the day
I won’t soon forget that experience, and I will surely bring it up again in the future during discussions of culture, equity, and inclusion. However, on a lighter note, here are some of the photos from today.