Thursday 1 December 2011

No entry for men

As we fight for gender equalisation in India, here, in Qatar, women enjoy more freedom. What could be a better example than when some public spaces make it only for women?! Maybe it’s a kind of gender polarisation, but still I love the amount of freedom and space women enjoy here. Yes, the sort of space dedicated to women here, is amazing. Not to forget the point that women can see the whole world through her niqab and men cannot see who is the woman behind it ;) I think the abaya makes the access of males to female spaces harder than the access of females to male spaces here. 

What could be more and big space than finding numerous ladies’ rooms, which we can’t find them back home. Even during my school days, we preferred going home for lunch, not because the house was close by, but because we didn’t have sufficient number of ladies’ rooms. And the few which were there were never clean and the very fear of contracting some infection made many of us to either drink less water or go home or to friends’ home for lunch and come back. The scene was no different during my college days. The only relief being it was a women’s college. But there too, the number of toilets was only 4-5 and sometimes, there never used to be water. So, all we could do during lunchtime was run to a friend’s place whose house was near to the college. 

Plus, while travelling, many women, including me, avoid drinking sufficient amount of water, as it is very difficult to empty the bladder :( I have seen some lady conductors’ plight during long journeys in India. 

I realised the importance and strong space for women during the Doha Park festival. As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, we bought some lovely perfumes from a Kuwait perfume stall and after reaching home, we realised that one of the bottle caps was loose and 3/4th of the perfume had been completely leaked. So we thought of exchanging the bottle and we went there on Saturday and as I was too tired, I stayed in the car parked in front of the Exhibition Centre. Vij went and he was denied entry to the Park, as Saturday was Women Only day! We had to go on the next day to exchange it for a new bottle of perfume.

Another lovely concept I loved about here is women are economically independent even if they work or not. During the wedding they get Mehr. As men get dowry in India, women get Mehr here, and trust me it is not just one or two lakhs, but millions and millions or rupees, house, cars, gold and other valuables. And on the other day, one of my friends Sakeena was telling me how Islam gives them the economic freedom to women. No man will ask his wife’s salary. All that she earns is her property and it is her wish to share it with him or not. But a man cannot claim his share in her earnings! Isn’t that a lovely concept? Not just that, she has all the rights to use the money for whatever she wants to buy or invest. So at the end of the day, she enjoys all privileges. If the man leaves her in between, or if he dies, still she is safe, safe economically and socially.

Now, imagine the plight of us, Indian women, on the other hand. Even Muslim friends back home are not that liberal when it comes to dowry and wife’s earnings. I have seen some of my friends who obediently handover all the earnings to their husband and borrow few bucks for monthly expenses. Not long before, a friend of mine rejected to marry a girl just because she didn’t want to work after the wedding. His six months of courtship came to a grounding halt when she openly confessed that she wants to be a housewife and doesn’t like to work. He didn’t bother about her feelings or emotions, as both had shared lot of dreams together for six months. Money mattered the most, and the rest went into oblivion. He easily went ahead and married a girl who is working and willing to work after the wedding! 

Even in one of my close friend's case, when things were getting worse and worse and she had a miscarriage due to work pressure, she thought of quitting the job. But her father-in-law created a hullabaloo telling her that if she quits the job, it would burden her hubby. Not just that, to her utter shock, he also revealed the fact that he agreed for their wedding only because she was working! 

I have even come across my hubby’s friends and relatives telling me that my hubby is lucky because he gets double salary, which means his salary plus my salary…  So everybody, including his parents and relatives, expect me to handover my entire salary to my hubby. He can keep an account of what I do, how much I spend, where I spend, blah blah blah , but I cannot ask what he does with the salary, strange, but true. This is how most of us -- Indian women -- face the issue when it comes to economic freedom after the wedding. 

I also remember how one my senior colleagues at the college used to tell us how bad it feels for her to handover all her salary to her husband. “I earn so much much, but I can’t buy nice sarees or jewellery. Sometimes, I feel why am I earning so much when all I have to do is give everything to my husband?” I used to feel bad for her. But her story was better until I came across another colleague’s story which used to make me feel very very sad. She had purchased an apartment by paying a whopping sum. She had put all her savings and earnings into it. And due to marital discord, when she wanted to separate from her husband, he agreed to sign the divorce papers only after she agreed to register the apartment in his name and sign the agreement paper that she would pay the rest of the EMIs for the loan she had taken to buy that house! 

Ok, back to the point of freedom enjoyed by women in the Middle East. As in India, even in Qatar, men are not allowed to enter ladies’ beauty saloons and at the entrance, every saloon dons the signboard restricting the entry of men. And funnily, there is no such sign that restricts women from entering men’s saloons!
Another place where men have limited access is gym. Though there might be mixed gyms, all the women’s gyms put a signboard that men are restricted from entering the place, whereas, I have not come across any gym for males where females are not allowed.

The same thing happens with swimming pools as well. There are some pools that are open only for females, other open for both males and females. Not to forget the fact that even some of the mixed pools dedicate about five hours a week for females only! 

There is a hospital here completely dedicated to women. Even at general hospitals, women have separate sections and men are not allowed. And wonder how would they understand everything. Please, Islam makes every woman to read and write and I don't think there's not a single woman who cannot read and write Arabic, as they have to read the Quran every day. And back home, we can't even imagine of such a kind of place for women. Not to forget the fact that many times, we have to literally fight to get a seat, reserved for women, occupied by men in the buses. Though the scene is changing, still there are holes...   

I was even more amused to read a news that in June 2011, the Aspire Zone Foundation opened a movie hall, making it the first cinema in the Middle East dedicated to women. There are about 50 cinema halls in Doha and Qatari women usually go with a relative to the cinema, especially theatres in shopping malls. Three films are shown every weekend on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Shows begin at 3 pm, 5 pm and 7 pm. There will be special presentations for children every Saturday at 11 am, but the only condition is the children must be accompanied by a female relative!

Moreover, there are parks opened only for females and children, and the zoo too dedicates Tuesdays for women and children only. Where else do we get to see such a freedom and space for women?

But back home, we can’t even imagine such a kind of freedom for women. If we rebel against the system, we are blamed and abused. If we raise voice, we are thwarted in way or the other…And now, I realise how Kamala Das saw more space and freedom for herself in Islam, given the conservative Kerala society in which she was born and brought up. Everybody enjoys her works and nobody sees what made her to burst out through her poems and works. Had she enjoyed the freedom and equality as a woman, maybe we would have not seen such a great writer. 


  1. Judging purely by what you have written, i pity your unlucky husband.. Unless you were suffering from PMS while writing this. You see only the good others are enjoying dear lady. Don't you see the good part of our society? Creating no-access areas to men doesn't mean its the best thing in the world. You are just displaying typical lower-middle-class tradition-laced Indian mentality, even though your wonderful husband has taken you to a nice place by not looking at your earnings. You are displaying such a narrow-minded, pessimistic view of freedom that I wish I never ever wasted my 7 minutes reading it up!

    1. Yes, even i pity my unlucky husband... wonderful??? nice place??? sounds very funny... I never asked you to waste your seven minutes reading my blog...

    2. I have to pity u Roamer, I think you were suffering seeing your girl friend or wife facing PMS while reading this. Ask women at your house and check how much freedom they have in your hands or in your father's or your brother's hands. First stop harassing and torturing them inside the house and later go to clean the society and advising others instead of wasting your time like this!

  2. Bangalore/Delhi/Mumbai are tiny Indian cities which advocate independence for women greatly. Thats why they have free entry only for the (un)fairer/softer/curvier sex on Thursdays... In almost all pubs, bars and discotheques! Why don't you convert to Islam if you have the grit? Instead of spilling grit on your own humble culture..

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, the process of conversion is on the way...

    2. There is no need to convert the religion. All we as human beings are supposed to do is adopting the good values and cultures from every religion. Metros in India advocate independence for women, but how safer are these cities for women? Is there a guarantee that a girl comes safely if she walks on the road alone after 8p.m.? And do I need to mention about the amount of harassment and torture we face at homes in the name of discrimination and dowry? The patriarchal society has never given freedom or independence to women and male chauvinists have never stopped criticising women when they come up in life!