By Reem Abdalla (@Reem096)
Last year, as I walked into a conference room, to my astonishment I was the only one dressed in the national dress surrounded only by suits. How did I feel? Out of place. Although I live in the UAE and I am an Emirati myself, I feel alienated at times. So, I started to wonder. What does Abaya or Kandora represent to us? What role does it play in our lives and how do we feel towards it? I wanted to form opinions on the matter, view different perspectives on it, so I started the hunt.
Reem Yousef, a young 28 years old Emirati, stated that she is more comfortable wearing her national dress as she feels proud and not embarrassed by it. She considers people wearing casual clothing as more accepted in both social and working environment as they are seen as more flexible in performing their job. To Reem, Abaya/Kandora demands respect from the person wearing it and should be worn for the correct reasons, otherwise it is rejected.
As a British national living most of his life in the Gulf, taking Rupert Bumfry’s opinion on the subject was interesting. He came to the UAE when it was still a desert; to see how the UAE changed before his eyes is impressive. He says that the only time he conversed with female UAE nationals openly was in Dubai Literature Festival as it was a place with common interest, “literature”. The festival broke all barriers of gender, nationality and ethnicity.
Surprisingly, Ahmad Saeed, 25, wears Kandora occasionally in the UAE and more regularly back in his hometown Oman. He is more comfortable in casual clothing in the UAE. “People think you are more open-minded when you are dressed in casual. Men feel that women dressed in casuals are easier to approach and friendlier. While they have to be formal and have boundaries with women dressed in a national dress”.
Mohammed El Gergawi, 27 years old Palestinian, talked about how the national dress represents his culture and religious beliefs. As a Bedouin Palestinian, Mohammed says: “I grew up wearing the Kandora, it is what my grandfather and father wore”. To him, the national dress is a sign of respect and not fear. When asked how the Kandora plays a role in his workplace. He said that the Kandora intimidates some colleagues and clients as they do not know what to expect because they are not used to it.
The original Abaya and Kandora were worn for modesty. Nowadays, it is a fashion statement. The Abaya became as expensive as a dress with costs starting from hundreds of Dirhams. The Abaya started to have different styles: Bahraini, Saudi, Emirati, etc. each with its different material and stitching. The same is happening to our Kandora. We butchered it, what was once white became in the colors of the rainbow. If you walk down the street or in the mall you see the good and the bad. Although, we have many girls dressed decently in Abaya but then again we have many girls that wear it without any modesty. The sights you see: Girls wearing open abayas with all their clothes showing underneath, the ones who are wearing see-through abayas or the girls in skin-tight clothes with abaya on top and the list goes on. These new sights of Abayas do not represent our culture or our identity. Then we ask ourselves, how did we reach this stage.
Emirati men have an option of dressing in casual or in their national dress. What if the same option was given to an Emirati female? What will happen if a girl decided to remove the Abaya and walk down the street in jeans and a shirt? Will they be frowned upon in our society? Or will it be seen as acceptable? Truthfully, I want to have a choice in wearing it or removing it. By removing it, I will not forget my religious teachings or my culture. On the contrary, I will try to dress as modestly as I can. Take a look at our sister country, Kuwait. Women have the option of wearing the Abaya or dress in casual and they are always well-dressed. How did they get this choice, I question. Why are we scared of change? Why do we prefer to conform? Are we that we are scared of the unfamiliar?
Reem aims through her quarterly column to explore issues in society and discuss emerging new trends. Listen to other people’s thought and view their perspectives about the subject. Then raise questions and form unbiased conclusions about it.