Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Expat Exodus In The Middle East

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A photograph of Dubai | Source: Fredrik Öhlander via Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit people and economies worldwide, sparking a global recession and financially destabilising millions of people. In the Middle East, dipping oil prices have only worsened the threat to the economy. Businesses are shutting down, and many are trying to survive by cutting the salaries or laying off of workers. Large segments of the workers in these countries are expatriates, and many have struggled to make ends meet as unemployment soared.

The development of the Gulf countries has always been intertwined with their large expat populations. These workers are often vital to the economy, not just as part of the workforce but also as consumers by enabling successful malls, restaurants and other forms of recreation and tourism. Countries like Saudi Arabia gain valuable non-oil revenue in the form of increased Value Added Taxes (VAT) and by imposing a monthly fee on migrants who want to sponsor family members.

Many of these workers are from developing Southeast Asian countries such as India and Pakistan, and contribute greatly to their home country’s economy in the form of remittances, i.e sending money back home. Those who are facing unemployment or salary cuts are eager to be repatriated, especially since in many Gulf countries visas, rent, and even phone lines are linked to jobs, and expats have little to no social safety nets to fall back on.

Panicked” Indians applying to go back home crashed the Dubai aviation ministry’s website for applications in the process. The consulate says it has received around 200,000 applications for repatriation of expats from as many as 12 countries.

For some, closing businesses are forcing them to go home. For others, the cost of education is the major concern. The Emirates group, Uber’s Middle Eastern counterpart Careem, and hotels are some of the few major employers considering laying off large portions of their staff or reducing salaries.

Dubai has been one of the hardest hit, as expats form an estimated 92% of the population. Dubai based movers estimate that they’re getting up to seven calls a day to ship belongings abroad. It is extremely hard to gain permanent resident status in countries such as the UAE, and the costs of living and education are quite high and often provided by employers, which has made leaving the only option left for many laid-off workers across all fields.

The UAE has tried to offset the damage by granting automatic extensions to expiring work permits, waiving of work permit fees and fines, and providing interest-free loans and repayment breaks.

Meanwhile, governments in Kuwait and Oman are trying to mould the exodus into an opportunity to boost local employment. On the other hand, the Saudi Arabian government has been criticised for not taking enough measures to protect the local workforce.

While the Gulf countries have been trying to decrease their dependence on oil wealth and foreign workforce, it is not something that can be accomplished soon, especially given the great dependence of the Gulf economies on both those factors.

There is still too unavoidable a gap between the current skill of local workers and the training needed to compete with foreign professionals, making it hard to simply employ domestic workers in place of foreign ones. The pandemic, however, might not leave much of a choice.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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