Women’s rights in the United Arab Emirates

The UAE has been seen as one of the more enlightened Islamic nations, modern and efficient at least by the standards of many other Islamic nations. However beneath this apparent modernity lies a society that in how it treats women is very far removed from the 21st Century. Because of the position of Islam in the legal system of the UAE women are treated to a lesser standard of justice than that given to men.

A 2011 Human Rights Watch report on the UAE said that ‘conditions had worsened’ for human rights in general, with a major crackdown on voices that dissent against the Government, Royalty and the Federal Supreme Council.

The report said:”UAE authorities widened their clampdown on freedom of expression by disbanding the elected boards of the Jurists Association and the Teachers’ Association after they and two other NGOs co-signed a public appeal in April calling for greater democracy in the country. Social Affairs Minister Mariam Mohammed Khalfan Al Roumi issued decrees to replace the two boards with state appointees. “

If things are bad for those who call for more democracy then the situation for women is even worse. Because the legal system is based on Islamic Law, women are automatically disadvantaged in courts with women being judged to be worth one half of a man in inheritance cases. Coming from a nation where we make an effort not judge the worth of a person by their genitalia it is difficult to express how much this disgusts me. Church and Orthodox Jewish Law also treats women differently in religious legal settings but neither of those faiths codify and act to such a complete extent to enable the complete subjugation of women such as Islam does.

The Human Rights Watch report said on women’s rights in the UAE:”The UAE adjudicates family law and personal status matters for Muslims pursuant to interpretations of Islamic law, with no option to seek adjudication pursuant to a civil code. The law in particular discriminates against women by granting men privileged status in matters of divorce, inheritance, and child custody.Emirati women can obtain a divorce through khul’a (a no-fault divorce) thereby losing their financial rights. They may only ask for a divorce in exceptional circumstances. Females can only inherit one-third of assets while men are entitled to inherit two-thirds.

The law further discriminates against women by permitting Emirati men, but not women, to have as many as four polygamous marriages and forbidding Muslim women, but not men, from marrying non-Muslims. Emirati women married to non-citizens do not automatically pass citizenship to their children, a right enjoyed by Emirati men married to foreign spouses.
Despite the existence of shelters and hotlines to help protect women, domestic violence remains a pervasive problem.The penal code gives men the legal right to discipline their wives and children, including through the use of physical violence.The Federal Supreme Court has upheld a husband’s right to “chastise” his wife and children with physical abuse.
In the September elections 85 women out of 450 ran for 20 FNC seats. Only one woman was voted into office.”
And this is one of the more moderate and modern Islamic nations.
The discriminatory penal code based on Islam permeates all areas of a woman’s life, her husband can dump her without penalty, she can be forced to be one of a group of wives, she can be beaten and she can be controlled in her choice of who she can marry.

Those Western Feminists who preoccupy themselves with first world problems should maybe look outwards and see how the Islamic world treats women and speak out against Islamic culture and the highly gender discriminatory Islamic law. The judicial accounting of Islam always impoverishes women when the chips are down.

Here is a video of an Egyptian-born feminist speaking out about the lack of engagement between Western Feminists and those women who under the yoke of Sharia Law. Nonie Darwish is an author who has left Islam and in this piece (it’s long at 17 minuites but worth watching), castigates Western Feminists who do not speak out about gross abuses to their sisters under Sharia, but instead concentrate on first world problems. She does for me, also make the valuable distinction in her piece between the the religious beliefs that people hold internally and the danger of having religion extend itself into the general polity and culture.