What Happens When Gender Regimes Collide?

By Caroline Osella|March 27, 2019|project outputs|2 comments

The Gulf is arguably the most extreme example of superdiversity.

In public space, we make snap judgements about each other and work to understand how we need to present ourselves to others. This process becomes very complex when public space norms are not singular or agreed upon. (And if, as anthropologists recognise, ‘culture‘ has always been plural, then the places where this is evidently the case are multiplying, while the complexity continues to grow).

One of my key questions for respondents to the REALM project was: in what ways does this place differ from Kerala / India? Another question was aimed at asking about the aspects of migration which are not merely monetary, but which bring Gulf migration into the ‘lifestyle migration‘ bracket.

I was interested five years ago when I heard the response, over and over, from male and female Malayalis,

“The Gulf is good for women”, or “Here, women are respected”.

When I asked more, this seems to come down to two main aspects: women are safe on the streets here, protected from harassment and given respect in public space and interaction; and women here are visibly educated and employed, not deemed to be ‘not respectable’ or ‘not good mothers’ if they take up employment or move in public space. In Kerala, this is not the case: the breadwinner male and home-maker female continue to exert cultural dominance.

From 2017 – 2019, I have continued to ask a variety of Kerala migrants what are the lifestyle factors that they appreciate in the Gulf. ‘Safety and respect for women’ continues to appear in people’s responses.

This article thinks about the public spaces of Abu Dhabi and how people negotiate the fact of different dress codes, norms of gendered behaviour and expectations of interaction. With the help of long-term respondents and Gulf migrants who were willing to be interviewed, I come to a positive conclusion about people’s abilities to handle diversity and plural norms.

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