Born and raised into a mixed society, segregation wasn’t something I ever banked on experiencing first hand. I had heard rumors of men and women being segregated at Mass back in the forties and fifties but things evolved in the sixties to enable men and women to mix in church and since then they’ve been mixing goodo with little consequence.
Over the last fifty years, women in Ireland have fought for equality in the workplace in the house and most of all in society and guess what we’re won. Now women are entitled to work rest and play just like a man. The responsibility of breadwinning, lays firming between the two, as it is just as popular to find a house in Ireland where the woman is working but the man is not (either as a result of unemployment or cleverness) as it is for the man to be the main breadwinner. Women have fought and won for not only the right but the social acceptance of being able to walk into a pub alone and we are fighting hard to gain the right to say mass, whether there’ll be anyone left to preach the sermon to or not is besides the point.
With all this achievement tucked firmly under my belt, on my initial expatriation to Qatar in the Middle East nearly three years ago, my hackles were up. I would be slow to surrender my status of being equal to a man, I would work, I would drive, I would reject all things that suggested inferiority to the male of the species.
However, living in the Middle East where, segregation is apparent in just about every facet of everyday life is a big change. Apart from needing my husband to sign his permission to allow me to work and his permission to allow me to buy a bottle of wine and his permission to use the barbeque, (albeit this was more of a domestic issue than a standard Muslim policy) I have grown used to the separation of the sexes and the consequences and concessions of same.
Swimming pools have dedicated “women’s only” hours where only women and boys under the age of seven are permitted. (Interesting that in Arabia a boy is deemed a man at the age of eight, and in Ireland there are boys of 37 that may possibly never be deemed men). Hospitals and clinics often have male and female entrances, a system that is strictly enforced as both men and women scuttle obediently to their dedicated sextion without argument or question. Even recently when I applied for a driving licence in Abu Dhabi there was a separate queue for women. Each of these had benefits for women, if you swallow your feminism and embrace your femininity just sit back to enjoy the shorter queue time and comfortable A/C in the women’s section, then segregation becomes quite pleasant.
It is particularly pleasant on the Corniche in Abu Dhabi, where even the clear blue sea and the silk smooth sands are segregated. Via six gated entrances you can access the beach, singles, families, men, women all catered for just not together! So when taking the family to the beach you pay a small compulsory fee of just two euro to access the family beach, which doesn’t permit single men or dogs ( married or otherwise). The benefit is a safe play for teenagers and toddlers to frolic, not entirely a free world, like home, but a nice controlled environment to let it all hang out. Lots of parks, play areas and picnic areas are “family only”, the upshot being that all public areas are safe and accessible. Single men are free to use the non-paying public area.
It has it all, all bar the bracing fresh air and vibrant choppy seas of a day at the beach in Ireland. Then I thought of the last day I spent at the beach in Ireland and it wasn’t the fresh air or the rolling sea I remembered but it was the un-friendly dogs and intimidating owners, beer-drinking gangs of nothing-to- lose losers, litter, lack of facilities and the constant worry of impressionable teenagers and curious toddlers as I clutched my handbag in fear of it being snatched. Is this the consequence of a free world?