The dangerous line between modesty and modernity

Slide show: For women in the United Arab Emirates, everyday life means balancing new freedoms and old traditions


Nicole V. Hill
September 3, 2011 8:01PM (UTC)

"Gulf Women" is a series of photographs documenting the changing lifestyles of Emirati and Arab women living in the United Arab Emirates. Only since the discovery of oil in the 1960s was this region transformed from a barren Bedouin desert into a hub of luxury and excess -- known as the "Vegas" of the Middle East. Abu Dhabi is currently the richest city in the world, holding one-tenth of the planet’s oil supply.

These images were captured while working as a staff photographer for an English-language newspaper based in Abu Dhabi. Through my daily assignments I became fascinated with the delicate balance many of these women wield, between the religious obligations of their home life, and an emerging culture of high fashion and opulent living. While a woman’s right to work, serve in the military and pursue higher education is protected by a relatively new constitution, domestic life and social conduct is governed by Shariah law -- a strict Islamic moral code. Through foreign investment and tourism, the idea of the egalitarian woman is slowly developing, but still remains largely confined to the urban centers and upper-class circles.

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I witnessed women experimenting with a newly acquired freedom, pursuing their careers and dreams while toeing the line of modesty and upholding respect for their family name. In a city fueled by money and power, sometimes these two ideas, from an outside perspective, seemed to be contradictory. I watched a city being carved out of the sand, and this was just a small glimpse into some of the lives affected by and embracing change in this tiny Arab nation.


Nicole V. Hill

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