Hijabi students in UAE lament discrimination in job market


Dubai - The comments from students follow several adverts posted by agents who list no hijab allowed as one of the requirements.

By Sarwat Nasir

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Published: Mon 7 Jan 2019, 10:00 PM

Last updated: Wed 11 Jan 2023, 12:30 PM

As the Year of Tolerance kicks off, UAE students are urging employers in the promotions industry to be more accepting of females who wear hijab (headscarf).

The comments from students follow several adverts posted by agents who list "no hijab allowed" as one of the requirements, even though most of the jobs advertised are culturally acceptable for the applicant.

Students often do promotion jobs to earn quick cash and pay their university fees or other expenses. Many of these jobs usually require employees to promote a product, be a hostess at an event, sell products, welcome guests to an office, or just hand out pamphlets and product samples.

One such promotion job advert, which was posted on a WhatsApp group on January 7, said: "Required female promoter - Arab (non-hijab), with strong communication skills for an in-store activation." Several positions were available for this job across malls such as Mirdif City Centre, Deira City Centre, Dubai Festival City, Burjuman Centre, and Mall of the Emirates.

Ayesha Isa-Zailani, a fresh graduate in Dubai, wears a hijab and feels these adverts are "discriminatory".

"These ads are really negative and there are so many of them. We are living in the UAE and they have this kind of attitude towards girls wearing hijab - it's not right," Isa-Zailani said. She added that agents for the promotion jobs she had applied for never responded to her.

"Most of the jobs are appropriate for hijabis to do, so I don't understand why they don't want us to apply."

One Dubai expat, Anika Habib, worked in promotions for a few years. She said: "A lot of hijabis are turned down from promotion jobs in the UAE. I guess clients want to attract people using non-hijabis. It's unfortunate, especially in this region and, for some job roles, it may be considered discriminatory. I think we should not encourage this sort of selection."

Another expat, Alina Yassar, said employers in promotion jobs often want "good-looking people with blonde or brown hair".

"I wear a hijab and I'm OK with working at the trade centre or at a mall, promoting products. I speak great English and I have communication skills, so I'm not sure why it matters if I wear a hijab or not. There are promoters who don't respond to my questions or my application and I'm always left feeling hurt, especially because we are in a Muslim country," she said.

Nada Ihtesham has worked in the UAE's promotions and events industry for 10 years and part of her role is interviewing and hiring employees.

She is one of the advertisers who posted a job offer on Facebook, which had the requirement of "no hijabis".

Ihtesham told Khaleej Times that her clients demand such requirements and she has "no option" but to post exactly what they are searching for.

"Every job has a different criteria, every person has different requirements. For example, if you are working for a British firm or any firm where you have to go out and meet men as part of the regular work you have to do on a daily basis, it can be disrespectful for ones who wear hijab - it's not my own thinking, but this is the requirement from the client's side," she said.

"If you are offering a job to someone, he or she has to get the criteria right. When some people commented on my Facebook status, asking why a girl with hijab cannot apply, I went back to the client and they replied with the same answer I gave you . I was hiring the people and I was part of the promoter coordinator, when the client gave us a target, I interviewed everyone. [In the case of] the majority of hijabi girls - considering the UAE market - they are not that confident. They are a bit hesitant," Ihtesham said.

Khaleej Times has reported previously that the UAE does have an anti-discriminatory law in place, and up to Dh2 million worth of fines and 10-year jail time can be imposed on employers who discriminate during the hiring process.

In 2017, Khaleej Times also shed light on another dark side of the promotions industry in the UAE, where certain nationalities and race were being given priority and higher pay than others.


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