Hijabis in UAE share their unique challenge in virtual meetings

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Abu Dhabi: Following the Covid-19 outbreak, working from home has become common enough. While workplace environments are hard to mirror, setting up meetings has become fairly easy through the use of video telephony and conferencing apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

With no need to rush to meeting venues, workers have found they can easily log on to meetings from the comfort of their own homes. And even when they have to make themselves presentable for the camera, for most, it is not a big deal.

Still, these virtual meetings have brought in their own set of challenges for working women who don the hijab. Hijabis, as they are commonly known, follow a call to stay covered in public, specifically in front of men who are not related to them. So even if they are otherwise presentable, turning on the camera for a meeting means that hijabis also have to put on a scarf and cover their shoulders and arms.

“I was working from home for nearly six months, and only came back to the office in September. And yes, all the virtual meetings meant I was often scrambling for a hijab, especially in the beginning. Being properly dressed meant that I had to have a scarf and pin handy, and also wear a blouse with long sleeves,” said Nasreen Abdullah, a 33-year-old content writer from India.

The unique challenge also led to a number of funny situations cropping up. Nasreen narrated how a male colleague once asked to see her on camera, but she hadn’t had a scarf around. “He said he hadn’t seen my face in so long, and I had to rush and get one before turning on my camera. It was all just funny on hindsight,” she said.

Arwa Al Khatib, 42, an American corporate communications manager, remembered when her meeting extended one day to include a male colleague.

“Initially, the meeting had only had women on the call, so I wasn’t in hijab, even though I was dressed for the day, with face made up. At one point, we needed to bring in a male colleague, and I had forgotten that I wasn’t in hijab. I only realised it when I heard the girls calling out to me. I quickly switched off the camera and put on the hijab,” she said.

Being preparared

Over time, Al Khatib made sure she was prepared for surprise meetings. “I would always dress up in the morning. And before I began my work day, I ensured that I had a black jacket next to me that went with everything, and a hijab as well,” she said.

According to Sadia Anwar, 43, an entrepreneur from India, it wasn’t that much different from the way senior executives often keep a jacket and tie in their rooms for meetings that are suddenly scheduled.

“I kept a jacket, hijab and pin on the desk next to me, and simply put them on before turning on the camera. After a while, it wasn’t very difficult. But it did take some getting used to, having to be dressed in a scarf at home,” she said.

“Actually, hijab was more of a challenge when helping my children with their schoolwork. I would be dressed for my own meetings, but not for their online classes. So if they needed any help, I would have to ensure that I stayed off camera, or that I just sneaked in my hand to make any adjustments,” Anwar said.

Despite these minor hiccups, the women said they preferred the ease and flexibility of remote meetings on Zoom and Microsoft Teams. “My company is registered in Sharjah, and I often have to brave the traffic to drive down for meetings. With video conferencing apps, I can save all this commute time,” Anwar said.

Al Khatib added that the ability to conduct entire meetings with the camera turned off - if the need arises - also makes things easy for hijabis. “Virtual meetings are far more flexible, and don’t require one to work around everyone’s schedules. So I feel they are here to stay,” she said.

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