I work with a brilliant young engineer recently graduated from the University in the most conservative Emirate (think State) of the United Arab Emirates. She is sharp, optimistic, and charming. Hiring her was one of the first things I accomplished in my assignment here and I attended her wedding just within weeks of my arrival, before she had actually started working for us. Though she holds a Jordanian passport, she was born and raised here in the UAE. Though her hair is always covered with a scarf, she does not wear the full abaya that indigenous gulf women wear. She dresses quite modernly, though arms and legs always fully covered.
Yesterday she told me of a panicked call she had gotten from a college peer of hers. This young woman had called my friend because of a dire family situation. Seems she had just recently gotten hired by a company here in Abu Dhabi. Her home is in Sharjah (the most conservative Emirate, about two hours drive from here) and her family very, very conservative. She had had to get permission from her father to take this job: in this country, if you are not a UAE citizen (we call them “locals”) you must either have a company sponsor or be sponsored by a father or husband. The sponsor must show proof of employment and therefore indirectly have a local sponsor. Though her father had originally signed the official documents agreeing to let his daughter take employment with this company, after two days of her commuting to Abu Dhabi, and starting the process of finding housing here, they had changed their mind. They did not want to allow their daughter the freedom to be out in the world, so far from home (about a two hour’s drive away). After three days on the job her mother informed her “if you go to work you will be disowned from this family.”
My co-worker told me that during college this gal’s parents were also very protective of her. She could not openly go out places with other female students, no unchaperoned activities. She was basically forced to be dishonest, just to have any social life, even though it did not include meeting men in any way, shape or form. No level of trust.
This young lady decided to go on to graduate school because the only other option open to her was to stay at home and wait for a marriage to be arranged. So she went to graduate school and got a degree. Then she went to look for a job. And now she is in this place: deciding on a career or being abandoned by her family. She is truly between a rock and a hard place in the truest sense of the words. She told my friend “it makes me just want to marry some old coot to get out from under this control.”
I do not know this young lady, but I want to bring her home. Give her a room and a life where she can breathe and have hope for a future. It is hard for me not to see so much of the customs and regulations here as projection of the oppressor’s own depraved tendencies. “You cannot be trusted to be in the presence of someone of the opposite sex because I could not be trusted in the same situation.” It’s stories like these that bring me to my knees in thanks that I was born in the time and place and to the people I was born to. Praying that this girl will find some light showing the way out of this tunnel.