Women’s Rights in the UAE

Today, women take on a wide variety of key roles in almost all walks of life and their contribution to a country’s development cannot be ignored. To protect them and to ensure that they can equally enjoy certain rights and freedoms, most countries have devised laws in accordance with the UN’s guidelines.  

United Nations, Women's Rights, and Role of Member States

The UN, as a propagator of human rights and gender equality, has taken certain measures to ensure that women all over the world enjoy equal rights and freedoms, same as men do. These include the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ adopted in 1948, creation of ‘The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women’ in 1979 and ‘the UN Development Fund for Women’, and several General Assembly’s declarations.

By approving and accepting all the UN’s conventions, laws and declarations, states agree to take measures to ensure that women are not discriminated within their lands. This means that their legal systems must treat both men and women equally, and will work towards abolishing all discriminatory laws, customs and acts against women. Furthermore, governmental institutions have to be established to make sure that all these practices are followed and women are protected against any kind of discrimination.

Shariah Law and Women in UAE

Since the UAE is an Islamic country, many of its laws are in accordance with the ‘Islamic Shariah law’, which does not give certain rights to women and makes women dependent on men in various matters. These policies are considered discriminatory against women, according to western concepts and perspectives of human rights. For example, women, according to Islamic laws, need the permission of their guardians to get married. Additionally, they are required to obey their husbands after marriage (as long as his orders are not against Islamic principles); a man has the right to divorce (however, a women can ask for the dissolution of the marriage, known as Khula, by giving up her financial rights i.e. mahr); and a woman needs her husband’s permission for working.

All these laws are part of UAE’s constitution and are considered as discriminatory laws against women according to the Declaration of Human Rights. However, there are areas where UAE does not properly follow Islamic laws and discrepancies also exist in laws and practices in UAE.  

Discrepancies in UAE Laws and Legal Structure

The UAE lacks specific laws regarding domestic violence and the responsibilities of governmental agencies, like police and court. The law is lacking in such circumstances as cases of domestic violence and other forms of abuse against women are not clearly explained in the laws. There have been cases of domestic violence, reported by Human Rights Watch, where the law enforcement agencies even discouraged women from reporting any incidents of domestic violence.

Also, women experiencing sexual harassment or who have had been victims of sexual assaults find it extremely difficult to report such incidents due to the fear of being blamed and the possibility of prosecution. Although, the UAE government says that there is punishment for having sexual relations outside marriage is in accordance with the Islamic Sharia law, problems arise when the law enforcement agencies fail to properly investigate a case and blame a woman for any such incident, rather than understanding that she had been a victim of a crime committed.

Migrant women, who have been working as domestic workers in UAE, are most susceptible to human rights violations. Most of them are being abused and exploited and the condition is worsened by the fact that these women are not even covered by ‘labor law protections’.

Concluding Remarks

In view of the current situation of human rights in the UAE, it is advised that the UAE government should review its laws and bring reforms to abolish all discriminatory laws and practices against women, keeping in view the true spirit of Islamic laws. Also, the western Human Right organizations need to understand that every society and religion is different and they cannot view everyone with a single lens. They need to take religious perspectives into account, while devising policies and practices for observing human rights in any country.