Segregation of the sexes is still a live social custom in the UAE. It is not uncommon to see separate entrances and waiting areas for men and women. I’ve encountered this many places to include the Immigration and Emerites ID offices, the medical clinic and there are even separate mosques for men and women to pray. It perplexes me a bit because Emerati women are already covered and the sexes almost always see eachother if inside the same venue. In my opinion, the only place where separate areas was truly necessary was at the Emerites ID office. Some of the ladies removed a layer or two of their adornments to take ID pictures. In this case, the separate areas eliminated the possibility of a man seeing an Emerati woman while “indecent”. That’s understandable.
When we took my son to see a doctor at Khaleej clinic, we were met by signs directing visitors towards two separate entrances; one for men and the other for women. The problem is that we were together, coming as a unit regarding the care of a minor. Where was the entrance for that I wondered. We entered through the appropriate doors and I took my son with me. Once inside, I could hear my husband explaining to the desk attendant that he wanted to be reconnected with his wife and son. He was given permission to join me on the lady’s side. After he checked us in we were directed to have a seat and wait to be called. As we approached the waiting area, I noticed there were two adjacent seating areas, separated by a thin, slightly transparent partition. Each side of the partition was labeled with a printed 8.5×11 sign. In a fun, blue font with rounded corners, one sign read, “Women’s Waiting Area” and the other, “Men’s Waiting Area”. Huh? I thought in a moment of clear confusion. If each side has a separate seating area for men and women, why did it matter which door we entered through? *shrugs* We chose seats and began to wait.
We were the first to be seated. Shortly thereafter, I looked up and several Emerati women, covered by hijabs and abayas, approached the seating area. We could only see their eyes and the soles of their shoes. One sat down for about 30 seconds and then quickly retreated to a corner with the others. Within a few minutes of them leaving a nurse came over to speak with us. We thought she was calling us back to have the baby seen so we started preparing to leave the area. Instead she told us to move to the other seating area. My husband, who’d already been told that it was okay for us to sit together, expressed opposition. The nurse persisted and explained that it was okay for us to sit together but only in the male section. We were seated together in the female section. Begrudgingly, we moved and here’s why…First, the directions should have been clearly stated from the moment my husband made the request to be seated with me. Second, their women are covered. What was he going to see sitting five feet away from them that he couldn’t see sitting ten feet away from them?
Clearly, the women had gone to complain about us being seated together in the female section. But what was it really about I wonder. Were they simply sticklers for the rules? Did they have a problem being near my dark skinned husband? Or were they so self important that they believed he took pleasure in eyeballing their all black garments? At this point, I will never know but at least I understand clearly what the conditions are to be seated with my husband.