Page last updated at 17:36 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009

Emiratis target 'masculine women'

Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC Arab affairs analyst

The UAE government has launched a campaign against what it describes as masculine behaviour among women.

Under the slogan "excuse me I am a girl", it has launched a series of workshops, lectures and TV programmes.

The aim, the UAE authorities say, is to help women avoid what is seen as "delinquent behaviour".

That is how the social affairs ministry in the emirates describes what would in some other societies be known as homosexuality or transvestitism.

Officials from the ministry told the local press that "masculine behaviour" among young girls was first spotted in special care homes.

There were no studies available that describe the extent of the phenomenon in the rest of the Emirati society, they said, but it is believed to be common in girls' schools.

A social worker in charge of the campaign, Awatef al-Rayyes, was quoted as saying that this kind of behaviour could be attributed to a number of causes including the unfair treatment of wives by their husbands and lack of mixing between the sexes.

This, she said, could lead to girls feeling more secure in the company of other girls and some may adopt the male role by having their hair cut short or by putting on a man's voice.

Officially, Arab societies view heterosexuality as the publicly accepted norm, and all other forms of sexuality or sexual conduct are regarded as deviant or abnormal.

However, homosexuality is believed to be common.

Attitudes to lesbians and gay men vary from one country to another: in some, they are tolerated, albeit, grudgingly, and in others persecuted or even prosecuted.

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