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Dubai: Female partygoers are labelling Dubai nightclubs’ heels-only policy ‘sexist’, especially as men can allegedly enter the same venue with trainers.

One woman, a Brit in her early 30s who prefers not to be named, said she was going to meet her husband and his friends at the 1OAK nightclub in the JW Marriott Marquis in Business Bay recently but was refused entry on account of her flat shoes.

“I was presentable, had my hair done, with make-up on and was wearing a black outfit with flat shoes, but they were still smart,” she told Gulf News tabloid!, adding that her husband and his friends were already inside, some of whom, including her husband, were wearing trainers.

“I would understand if I was wearing beach attire, but I had money in my pocket to spend. What I object to is being objectified to conform to a certain look and beauty standard or ideal just to go in a club and enjoy my evening, particularly for something as absurd as not wearing high heels,” she continued.

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She was particularly annoyed with the fact that men were allowed in wearing casual trainers.

“The fact men were allowed in trainers perpetuates the whole ridiculous notion that women are there to look pretty and attractive to attract men to spend money in clubs, which probably goes some way to explain the reality of the situation, but it doesn’t mean we should agree with it or tolerate it. I’m approaching 31, very confident in my own skin and with who I am and don’t need to be told to look a certain way by a nightclub, and moreover it was a woman on the door who said it, which I find even more insulting than hearing it from a man,” she said.

Caitlyn Davey, 30, an Australian expat, sent a humorous tweet this week of models struggling to walk in high heels on a cat walk, which read: “So apparently a club in Dubai has a ‘high heels only’ policy for women, ‘health and safety’ reasons. Umm, pretty sure me walking in heels is a health and safety hazard.”

“I broke my ankle in December so I physically can’t wear heels at the moment,” Davey told Gulf News of her objection to the rule. “It’s also a sexist issue as men don’t have to wear painfully uncomfortable high heels that crush their vertebrae just for the sake of a dress code.

“It’s also dangerous, if you can’t walk in them it’s the opposite of health and safety by making women wear them. I find it offensive that something detrimental to health can be enforced for the sake of appearance and not anything related to genuine health and safety concerns. I get that you can’t wear flip flops but why not ballet flats?”

THE CLUBS SPEAK

When approached for a comment, a spokesperson for the club said: “Heels are not compulsory but are highly recommended to maintain the standards of the brand.

“Open toes are not safe in case of broken glass or if someone steps on your toes, and sport shoes do not fit the look of the brand we are trying to maintain.”

Asked if men were allowed to wear trainers, the spokesman replied: “It is up to the doorman’s discretion. We don’t want to turn anyone away but we have a capacity of 350 and if we have to be selective, this gives us reason to refuse. At some point we have to say no, no flat shoes, this is a classy night.”

“Heels might be painful but unfortunately the reality is it looks more classy and elegant. And among our competition this is a recurrent thing,” he continued.

“This [complaint] gives us an opportunity to rectify [our stance] but if we allowed flat shoes everyone would come in flat shoes and that would affect the image of our brand, so we face a critical challenge.

“We sometimes use the flat shoe excuse as an alternative to telling someone they are intoxicated, so it’s a more delicate way of dealing with that situation. “People also misunderstand when others walk in ahead of them, but that might be because they already have a table reservation.

“The door is a critical department to manage and we would love to have the time to pass on the reality of what a club is facing.

“Out of 1300 people who visit us in a week, having two or three complain is unfortunate as it’s already too much, but it’s nothing compared to the whole experience.”

Another club White Dubai said: “We have a dress code, which is smart elegant. Heels are advisable but flats are allowed if they are classic or elegant.”

Cavalli Club also said: “We take it on a case-to-case basis. Heels are part of the policy because when you say Cavalli, you think celebrity and we want to give people the opportunity to look like celebrities. But if the guest cannot wear them for any reason, we accept flat closed shoes but no sports shoes.”

WHAT THE LAW SAYS

As per the law, the only requirement is to wear appropriate clothing in keeping with the values of the country. However, private establishments can enforce their own policies. This is not discriminatory as long as patrons are properly advised. As this policy permits everyone who wears heels, it’s not discriminatory, because refusal is not on the grounds of ethnicity or religion. It would be discriminatory, however, if you wore heels the next time you went and you still weren’t granted entrance. As per men being allowed to wear different footwear, legally speaking, gender would be a different classification and as long as there is valid classification, there is no discrimination. If you feel you have been discriminated against you can check your consumer rights and file a complaint with Dubai Municipality, who licence these establishments.

— Barney Almazar, lawyer and partner at Gulf Law