Dr. Fathia Elmenghawi from AURAK’s Department of Architecture and Dr. Alexandria Proff from AURAK’s Department of Humanities and Social Sciences have partnered to bring together the perspectives from two different disciplines when considering the use of public spaces by women in Ras Al Khaimah. This research is being funded by the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research and will likely influence public policy in the design of public spaces within the Emirate.
Despite a growing interest in the field of women and environments, the focus has traditionally been on female activities and needs in the home. Dr. Fathia and Dr. Alexandria noticed that there is limited research on the way in which women use public space and therefore collaborated to explore this phenomenon in Ras Al Khaimah. Their study aims to explore the similarities and differences in how women use different public spaces within the Emirate. They have chosen two types of public spaces to explore – educational (schools) and recreational (shopping malls).
Teaching is one of the most accepted professions for women: a perception that is shared across cultures and the Middle Eastern and Islamic culture is no exception. Access to this type of public space is less restricted for women, particularly in girls-only schools in which teachers are exclusively female. The researchers are convinced that gleaning insight into how women navigate this workspace will be critical to better understanding how women may negotiate mixed-gendered public spaces, such as a shopping mall. Within Ras Al Khaimah, women spend much of their free time shopping or engaging in other social activities within malls and they have become a “third space”; a place where women tend to socialize outside the more traditional domestic space.
The researchers want to understand how women negotiate the multi-dimensionality of mixed-gendered public spaces designed for entertainment and socialization purposes, from the perspective of women directly. This they believe will provide much needed information and data, which can be used to inform public policy to enhance these public spaces and thereby facilitate greater access and use by the female population.
Dr. Fathia and Dr. Alexandria are using a mixed-methods approach within their study, namely interviews, site observations, and a questionnaire. The findings of this study will help to develop a better understanding of women’s needs in public spaces. It will also provide much needed insight into whether the physical form and design of these spaces meets these needs. More importantly, the study will address some recommendations for empowering women and addressing the unequal use of public space.