By Ella Tanner, International Representative (Dubai)
Lucy is a 33-year-old financial controller working for an architecture practice in Dubai. She has white blonde hair that sits just above her shoulders - it is getting a lot thicker now her pregnancy hormones are kicking in. With a relaxed attitude and a dry black humour that is typical of northern England, Lucy seems to breeze through life easily.
When I ask her why she moved to the Middle East in the first place, she looks at me incredulously, ‘for the money, of course!’ She laughs as she clarifies, her husband owns a successful crypto-currency business based in the UK and since there is seemingly an infinite amount of willing investors in Dubai, opening an office out here seemed like a logical next move for the company. They have now been in the UAE for four years and live a comfortable and relaxed life. Lucy works part time so she spends her afternoons at pregnancy yoga classes or at the gym with her personal trainer. Her commitment to her fitness shows as she still looks strong and lean at six months pregnant.
Her baby girl is due in April. She isn’t worried about becoming a first time mum, she is hoping her laid back attitude will somehow flow to her little girl. But she is saving up a bank of TV shows for the sleepless nights, just in case. Her main concern, she tells me, is that under Dubai law, she is only entitled to 45 calendar days’ paid maternity leave. This is not a lot. Because she works for a company with its head office in the UK, they are more flexible and they might give her unpaid leave, but she isn’t sure as she hasn’t asked yet.
She was relieved when she told her employer that she was pregnant and they were happy for her. Lucy relays horror stories that she has heard of expectant mothers being made redundant from their jobs when they announce their pregnancy which cuts off their medical insurance, their visa and unless they can find another job as a pregnant woman in male dominated workforce, their right to live in Dubai.
Even if she is given unpaid leave, Lucy is unsure whether they should remain in Dubai. She doesn’t know if it is the right place for her to bring up a baby. I ask Lucy how she thinks her daughter’s life will differ if she grows up in Dubai compared to in England. She hesitates for a moment before she responds:
She will be more spoilt here and she will have to make new friends every year because the place is so transient. But she would also learn a lot about different cultures, different religions and different ways of life.
But, Lucy and her husband have no family support here. She wants her child to feel connected to her home and to her family.
With this looming over her, Lucy is not sure what the right option for her and her new family will be. Will her best option be to give up the lifestyle and job opportunities that Dubai promises her and her husband? Or should she return to the safety, support and stability of England?
But Lucy is lucky. This decision is not make or break for her and she doesn’t need to make it straight away. She can move home tomorrow or she can move home in 20 years, regardless, her lifestyle and career will remain relatively the same.
But, this is not the case for thousands of women working and living in Dubai who come from countries with limited medical care, low wages, university degrees that are not internationally recognised and little to no social welfare or support. Dubai is a city of contrasts and Lucy’s life compared to the thousands of women from less developed countries is a classic example.