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Page last updated at 15:57 GMT, Friday, 29 July 2005 16:57 UK

Women's stories: Young UAE workers

As part of a BBC News website series on young people in the Middle East, three young women describe their lives among Dubai's growing ranks of female professionals.

FATMA MOHAMED AL-HAJ, 21: RADIOGRAPHER

Fatma Mohamed al-Haj, qualified radiographer
Fatma negotiated with her family to be allowed to study radiography
"At the beginning when I told my family I wanted to study medical imaging, some of them didn't like it because I would have to touch men. This is against our religion, our society and traditions.

"Secondly, they didn't like it because of the shifts. I have to work morning, afternoon and nights, and they don't like girls outside the home after 9 or 10 o'clock.

Fatima says her family changed their view after she X-rayed relatives who were surprised to find her working in the hospital.

"Then they came to my parents and said: 'Your daughter is so nice, she's working in a good hospital, she has a very nice future.'"

And she negotiated with her mother on the issue of shift work.

"I said: 'Imagine one day if I have a car accident or something - who will X-ray me? Would you like a male to X-ray me?' And she said: 'OK, you are right!'"

Fatma Mohamed al-Haj, qualified radiographer
"I used to feel shy talking to men, but now I'm not shy any more"
"Some of my male patients like it, but some of them are completely rude to us, saying: 'You chose to study this because you like to touch men.'"

"Before I get married I will have to tell my future husband clearly, that this is my career, I will have to touch men. If he wants me and will accept me, then he can marry me, but otherwise I will not marry him."

She would prefer to meet a potential husband through her work, rather than through an introduction arranged by her family.

"That way I can't see him in his natural way - the way he talks, the way he treats people.

And Fatma does sometimes get advances from male patients.

"Some of them go: 'Ooh, female, I like that, do an X-ray for me, I have a pain here.' Then they come back another day and sometimes they ask for your mobile number.

"I used to feel shy talking to men, but now, after working in the hospital, I'm not shy any more."

NARIMAN AL-ROSTAMANI, 19: TV PRESENTER

Nariman al-Rostamani, TV presenter
Nariman faced less opposition when she began wearing the veil
Nariman al-Rostamani, 19, has been presenting TV shows since the age of 12. Although it is becoming more common for female UAE nationals to appear on television, many in the society feel it goes against traditional values.

"Being on television has been a really hard step. It's really unusual for a UAE girl.

"My family weren't supportive in the beginning. In the end they did support me, but my society didn't.

"As a celebrity I started to get called bad names - from everyone, even children. If I go to a mall or out with my friends, I get it.

"And I get some e-mails saying they don't like me. They say: 'You're not respecting your culture and your heritage.'"

At one point, around the age of 17, the opposition became too much and Nariman wanted to leave television. But she began wearing the shayla and arbaya, the veil and cloak that the most UAE women wear.

"When I wore it, I was accepted better. Everyone looked at me in a different way, as a mature woman, not as a kid.

Nariman al-Rostamani, TV presenter, has her make-up done
"My job is to smile with everyone, to talk with everyone"
"Wherever I go I have to be careful about what I say and what I do, people will criticise me for any move I make which is not good."

This will make it very difficult for Nariman to meet a potential husband apart from through the traditional means of family introductions.

"To tell you the truth I have no idea how this husband is going to come to me - maybe by watching me on TV and then deciding to come to my family and propose.

"I socialise with everyone, young and old. I'm a presenter, my job is to smile with everyone, to talk with everyone.

"Basically what made my personality is my family and the place that I'm working.

"I didn't used to be this type of person. I used to be so quiet, I hated talking to people and I was shy. But because of TV, I stopped being shy and I stood on my own two feet."

FATIMA AL-ATTAR, 26: CEO

Fatima al-Attar, CEO of Interior Dot Com
"I don't back down - I like to take up a thing from the start to the end"
Fatima runs her own company, Interior Dot Com, which designs the interiors of offices, hotels, apartments, retail outlets and restaurants in Dubai.

"Things are changing. The ladies, especially in Dubai, have opened up completely, they take up projects and challenges along with the men. I don't see any hindrance to that."

Working with architects and structural engineers, her job involves donning a hard-hat and visiting construction sites.

"I usually get the comment: 'She's a lady getting into this kind of work,' but they always look at me in a respectful way, which is nice."

Fatima married at the age of 20. Her husband is supportive, even when she works until 3am to meet a deadline.

Fatima al-Attar looks at design plans with two colleagues
Fatima enjoys the decision-making that comes with being a CEO
"He knows I'm an intensive workaholic person. He has a full respect for it, he doesn't mind me working like this."

She says the best thing about having her own business is making decisions - for example on which contracts to bid for and commit to.

"You have to be strong enough to say yes or no, and if it's yes, you have to be completely responsible. It makes you very decisive."

Although she has employed women in the past, all her current staff are male.

"There are some people who are on the construction sites, and for long hours, and I like to give that sort of responsibility to a man.

"With all the men around them, the relationship between the labourers, the site supervisor and the architect tends to be more flexible that way. Also, if we work late nights, maybe I can be there, but I can't ask another woman to be there at that time.

"I am very strong, but at the same time sensitive. I don't back down, once I take up a challenge I go deep into it, whether I see success or failure. I like to take up a thing from the start to the end."


Are you young in the Middle East? How free are women to have careers in your country? Are you balancing work and family? Are you negotiating for more freedom? Have you chosen not to work? Send us your views and experiences using the form below:

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