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Women in Public Space: A Ras Al Khaimah Case Study

The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, stated that "women have the right to work everywhere." Throughout the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, women’s improved access to education has resulted in significant social changes, which have eventually led to the emergence of new, modern lifestyles. More modern lifestyles mean that women have greater opportunities to build careers and make use of public spaces. Most interesting about these new lifestyle changes is the ability for many societies to modernize while sustaining their traditions and social norms.

To better understand this issue, we designed a study to examine the experiences and perceptions of women in Ras Al Khaimah and their use of public spaces, mainly educational and recreational spaces. To do this, we used a mixed-methods approach, which included a questionnaire, in-depth interviews, and observations of indoor and outdoor public spaces. We observed women in schools and malls to examine or (learn more) about their use of, and attitudes toward, public spaces in Ras Al Khaimah. The results of the study suggest three important things to consider.

  •  Women in Ras Al Khaimah Primarily Use Public Spaces for Personal Development and Recreation

Firstly, personal development and recreation are key reasons for women's use of public spaces. Interview participants stressed the importance of supporting others' development when they use educational public spaces. This could be in the form of teaching and collaborating with colleagues or conducting beneficial workshops for the growth of team members. For example, Alya,1 one of the study participants, implied, "I [am a] trainer in two directions (students and teachers). In students' direction, I give lectures and workshops on safety and everything. The other program is for teachers, and I give them training sessions in teaching… also, I participate in conferences." Developing as a person and recreation were identified as key reasons women make use of public spaces.

  • Women’s Perceptions of Public Space Usage is Oftentimes Fostered by their Leadership Aspirations

The second consideration relates to behavioral skills and how women’s perception of public space usage is fostered. Women perceive their usage of public space as a result of specific behavioral skills that connect to their successful performance in their careers and social lives. Leadership is a key socio-cultural norm expressed by all participants as they demonstrate how their usage of the educational public space reflects their leadership. Another participant, Hend,2 states, "The most significant role for the women is to be leader especially to be principal.” Shayma3 further elaborated, “I am confident, I trust myself, I trust my ability, and I can handle this time whenever anyone observes me as I have experience in teaching field, so I am not afraid [of working in a public space]." In short, women’s attitudes and behavioral skills influence their perception about how they use public spaces.

  • Women Want Exclusive Areas Dedicated to Women and Families Within Public Spaces

Socio-cultural factors also influence women's use of public space. An overwhelming majority of survey respondents (78%) agreed that exclusive areas for families should be assigned in public spaces, as well as (91%) stressed that specific female-only areas for jogging and sports have to be included in outdoor recreational spaces. However, while women would like to have specific areas assigned for jogging and sports, they were also less likely to use them. This is probably because these public spaces may not be designed for enhanced privacy and comfortability of women in mind. They were, however, more likely to use public spaces for private events, such as birthday or graduation parties (69%).

What Does All of This Mean?

In short, women's use of recreational and educational public spaces in Ras Al Khaimah varies. It consists of activities that develop and enhance their leadership potential and quality of life. Moreover, different factors influence women’s use of these spaces. As discussed in this blog, these factors include personal motivation, influence of their families, and availability of options at public spaces.

For more details about our suggested policy recommendations and thoughts about how to improve women’s use of public space, please read our published policy paper entitled Women in Public Space: A Ras Al Khaimah Case Study.


1.,2,3 Pseudonyms used for study participants.

Dr. Fathia Elmenghawi and Dr. Alexandria Proff are researchers from different disciplines, and equally passionate about understanding and improving access for women’s usage of public space. Their multidisciplinary backgrounds inspired them to design a study that looked at both women’s use of, and motivation toward, urban public spaces.