Is it safe to be out so late? mum, I am in UAE

Women are treated with respect on the streets in the country

by Anjana Sankar

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Published: Tue 23 Nov 2021, 11:15 PM

“If you are told that a woman can walk alone, at day or at late night with no fear, you should know that she is in the UAE.”

When I read the above tweet by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, a few days ago, it instantly took me back 13 years, when I decided to stay back in the UAE instead of returning to India after my divorce.

I think that was one of the easiest decisions I have ever taken in my life. As a single mother and a working professional, it was, in fact, a no-brainer for me to choose the UAE – a country that is the safest place to live.

But miles away, my family worried about my safety.

“How will you live alone in a foreign country — that, too, with a kid? How will you go out and manage on your own?” My mum was worried.

I don’t blame her.

In India, that is what they do. They worry about their daughters. It is almost second nature for parents to be concerned and anxious about their daughters’ ‘safety.’ When we step out of our house; when we walk to and from school; when we take the public bus to college; when we are alone in an auto rickshaw — they worry. When we are out on the street, they worry. If the place is crowded, they worry. If the place is deserted, they worry even more.

I grew up inheriting these worries. Since I was 12 or 13, I have been preoccupied by the thought — or rather fear — of someone, anyone, encroaching into the privacy of my body. I practised and perfected skills to dodge and duck unwanted male intrusions.

As I navigated life as a woman living in India, I had a 24-hour duty to protect myself. I was told, and I believed, that it was my responsibility to keep myself safe.

When I moved to Dubai in 1999 with my husband, it was a culture shock of sorts that I was safe on the streets. There was no one ogling at me. ‘Is there a gag order on men?’ I used to wonder. Safety soon became a way of life. It was not a luxury anymore. It just existed, like oxygen around me. It was an untold relief of being without worrying about my body. That was true liberation.

All these years in the UAE, I have hopped from emirate to emirate as I moved jobs and houses. I can vouch that not even once, have I felt insecure as a woman.

Once, I was driving back from Abu Dhabi to Dubai late at night and had to stop at a fuel station to buy some snacks for my 7-year-old son. There was a long line at the store and I was patiently waiting.

A young Emirati male walked in; he looked at me and my son, who was clutching my hand. Next moment, with a gentle gesture to the others waiting in queue, he declared that I am allowed to pay first.

I have several such incidents where I was surprised and impressed by equal measure on how women are treated with respect on the streets.

It is that deep sense of safety that has helped women like me to fearlessly purse our dreams and hobbies and goals in life.

As a UAE resident, I have never cancelled a trip to the cinemas because it is a late-night show. I never had to say no to my son when he asked for a late-night ice cream treat. I do not remember ever cancelling a restaurant reservation because I did not want to be gawked at. I have never postponed a visit to the Global Village because there was no male companion to accompany me. I have never gotten anxious mum, I am in the UAE.”

Anjana Sankar

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