The United Arab Emirates (UAE), a federation of seven emirates, has rapidly emerged as a global hub for business, tourism and culture. Situated at the crossroads of East and West, the UAE boasts a blend of traditional Arabian values and modern aspirations, making it a unique and fascinating destination for both residents and visitors. Below we dive into various facets of the UAE, from its laudable strides in accessibility to its nuanced cultural norms, giving readers an in-depth look into life in this dynamic nation.
The population of the UAE has exploded to over 10 million in the past years due to its extensive infrastructural developments, bringing millions of expatriate workers into the country. Emiratis, the indigenous people of the UAE, constitute only about 12 percent of the population. A significant majority, approximately 59 percent, comprises South Asians, mostly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. There are also many Egyptian and Filipino migrant workers.
Another salient feature of the UAE's largely male labour importation is its ratio of men to women; males account for 72 percent of the population, with females comprising the remaining 28 percent.
Accessibility in the UAE
The UAE government aims to make Dubai the most accessible city in the world by 2025. It's already easy to access businesses, public spaces, transport, shopping malls and entertainment venues, though some pavements in the older parts of the city can be a challenge. Legislation is designed to enable those with any form of disability (referred to as 'people of determination') to succeed.
Dubai International and Dubai World Central airports are well-designed for anyone living with a disability or reduced mobility. There are dedicated check-in areas, prioritised drop-off points and complimentary parking for disabled drivers or wheelchair users – and dedicated lounges at both terminals.
Taxis in the UAE are convenient, safe and affordable. Their drivers are well-mannered and, in larger cities, can be booked or hailed using the Roads and Transport Authority app called Smart Taxi. In Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, they operate 24 hours a day. There are also specialist services for female passengers (driven by female chauffeurs) and dedicated airport cars.
The bus network covers most major city areas and is a cost-effective travel method, carrying 400,000 passengers a day. A fleet of over 1,500 buses covers 82 percent of the urban regions, including intercity routes and fast lanes to other emirates. Tickets for all public transport are available as 'nol' cards – paper-based for occasional trips or as a smart card/e-purse that can be preloaded and topped up.
The Dubai Metro is a popular and comfortable way to travel, especially during rush hour on the roads. There are standard and Gold Class options, designated cabins for women and children, and dedicated spaces for wheelchair users. The network connects Dubai International Airport with major hotels, malls and business centres using fully automated, driverless technology. Abu Dhabi's metro is under construction, and the Sharjah Metro is in the planning stage. Dubai also has monorail and tram services.
Every international car rental company is present in the UAE. The legal driving age is 18, but 21 is the minimum age for hiring a car. Some car rental companies require drivers to be over 25. Residents need a valid UAE licence to rent a car, while those from other GCC nations can use a licence issued from their home country. Certain nationalities can also rent a car on their licence from home. For any other nationalities, an international driving licence is mandatory.
- UAE's GAATES Initiative: Celebrating 10 Years of Accessibility (PDF)
- Disability INclusion: UAE Profile
LGBTQ+ in the UAE
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights are not recognised in the UAE. Any sexual relations outside heterosexual marriage, including adultery, are illegal and not tolerated under Islamic principles. Punishment can be severe, including a prison sentence or deportation.
- Human Dignity Trust's UAE Profile
- Amera International: UAE LGBTQI+ Resources
- EMNLP: LGBTQ+ Visitor Considerations
Cultural norms in the UAE
Visiting or living in the UAE demands an understanding of its cultural nuances. While it's a modern state, the UAE still cherishes and upholds its traditional values, influenced predominantly by Islamic customs. Resorts and hotels offer more leniency, but it's important to be mindful of Emirati norms in public spaces.
Conservative dress is expected in public areas, especially those frequented by locals. Men are generally expected to wear neat clothing, and women are encouraged to dress modestly, with many opting for outfits like the dirʿ worn beneath the ornate thawb dress and complemented by baggy trousers known as sirwāl.
The UAE permits alcohol consumption within the confines of licensed bars and restaurants, but public drunkenness is frowned upon, and driving intoxicated is strictly prohibited. Public displays of affection are also frowned upon, and acts that might be commonplace in Western countries can attract legal consequences in the Emirates, so it's wise to be discreet.
Gender equality in the UAE
The constitution of the UAE guarantees equal rights for men and women. Women enjoy the same legal status, claim to titles, access to education, the right to practice professions, and the right to inherit property as men do.
Women in leadership in the UAE
The most recent government data shows women held 66 percent of public sector jobs, one of the highest proportions worldwide. Women have a third of senior leadership and decision-making roles. In the private sector, 10 percent of businesses are female-owned.
Women's safety in the UAE
Actual and perceived safety is crucial to women's mobility and positive opportunities outside the home. The UAE topped the 2021 Women, Peace and Security Index for women's safety as 98 percent of women reported feeling safe here – the highest percentage worldwide.
Mental health in the UAE
It's not uncommon to experience problems with emotional well-being through concerns about work, family, finances or future – including neglect or abuse. The UAE National Programme for Happiness and Wellbeing provides a free service for residents experiencing mental health issues. Expert support or counselling can be accessed via WhatsApp. It's staffed by a team of industry professionals and specialist volunteers who provide initial counselling in English and Arabic.
Unconscious bias in the UAE
Unconscious bias refers to the prejudices absorbed when living in unequal societies. Preconceptions around gender, age and ethnicity inhibit effective hiring, limit development and lower staff morale. Business practice in the UAE is to tackle all conscious bias rather than routinely train staff around unconscious influences.
Diversification of the workforce in the UAE
The UAE is one of the very few countries where nationals make up less than 20 percent of the population and under 5 percent of the workforce. This means public and private sector organisations are highly diverse in terms of nationality, language, religion, race and gender. The Emirati Talent Competitiveness Programme (NAFIS) is driving work opportunities for both young and experienced Emiratis in the private sector against a target to ensure they make up 10 percent of the skilled workforce by 2025.
Safety in the UAE
The UAE is often commended on its safety record in contrast to many highly populated places. Violent crime is extremely rare, as penalties for perpetrators are severe. Petty crimes do occur but are uncommon. To enhance security, the Ministry of Interior has deployed a face recognition system using advanced technology to protect its borders, critical infrastructure and key assets. Coupled with a vast network of surveillance cameras, the system creates a safe and secure environment in which to live and work.
Festive dates in the UAE
The government announces public holidays at the beginning of each year. The Hijri calendar is the official reference for Islamic occasions such as the beginning of Ramadan, Eid or Hajj, which are determined by phases and sightings of the moon. Some prominent public and private sector holidays include Eid Al Fitr, Eid Al Adha and the UAE National Day.
►Learn more about Culture Shock in the UAE
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