Magazine article New Internationalist

Interview with Sharla Musabih as She Builds the City of Hope

Magazine article New Internationalist

Interview with Sharla Musabih as She Builds the City of Hope

Article excerpt

Dubal leaves little to the Imagination.

Oozing class and prosperity, this Gulf city is an undisputed Arab capital of cool. The largest city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it is a haven for both tourist and expatriates alike. For this is a city that has sprung out of the desert - an oasis for the world's beautiful people where dreams are fulfilled and fortunes are made.

But beneath the hanging steej of high-rise office blocks and world-class hotels a far less glamorous campaign is being waged. Led by Sharla Musabih, an American married to a UAE national, this fight has focused on an altogether darker and more hidden aspect of UAE society: domestic abuse.

The City of Hope - an organization founded in 2001 by Sharla and two other women, Lena Mustapha and Margaret Greeney - has served as a refuge for hundreds of abused women and children. Its establishment, says Sharla, was in direct response to a growing need that has been neglected during the UAE's stunning infrastructural and cultural transformation.

Only around 800,000 of UAE's 4.2 million population are nationals: the rest are migrant workers and their families drawn from alt over the globe. 'The development of the UAE is really amazing. But what I saw happening (at the beginning) was the development of a lot of social problems, which, as a result of the sudden influx of over 100 different nationalities, were being overlooked.'

The police and other social agencies, says Sharla, found it hard to cope with the sudden rush of an incoming multinational population. Their systems - designed with the customs of the UAE in mind - began to crack. 'The local population instantly lost their heritage and identity and it was very hard for them to deal with everything that came with the bigger population and the rise and use of bigger and better technology.'

'My friends and I discovered that domestic violence was stepping up and so I started taking women into my home,' recalls Sharla, who has lived in the UAE for some 22 years. Now with three operational shelters across Dubai, the City of Hope - a concern funded in part through corporate sponsorship - is filled with numerous women and children of various nationalities, many of whom could recount shocking tales covering the full spectrum of abuse. 'We have rape victims. We have rape victims who are pregnant. And sometimes after the pregnancy, we have had to do DNA tests to prove the identity of the child's father. …

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