Women Empowerment in The United Arab Emirates

The population of The UAE, as of 2013, was measured at 9.2 million. 1.4 million of this number are Emiratis, and the rest 85% are expatriates. As of 2014, the sex ratio of UAE stands at a horrifying 2.2. This statistic, among other things, is a good illustration of, to put it mildly, how different things are in The UAE when it comes to women, as compared to the rest of the world.

The judicial system of The UAE is derived from Sharia Law. The Emirati women, incidentally all of which are Muslims, are forbidden by law to marry non-Muslims(considered ‘fornication’), and must have permission from their `male guardian’ to remarry. Women are not allowed to wear shorts or sleeveless in public. Pre-marital sex, Homosexuality, Illicit sex and Adultery are all punishable by law. Rape victims are usually criminalized, with women who report rape often being jailed under charges such as ‘engaging in extramarital affairs’, unless they have male Muslim eyewitnesses. The punishments frequently include Flogging (up to 100 lashes) and Stoning (public hitting of stones until death). Amputation and crucifixion are both legal punishments while deportation can be dished out for an ‘offense’ such as kissing in public.

Still, things were much worse in the past. Although that may seem like a small consolation, lately conditions have been improving in the UAE. And although it still seems very set on its ways, the government has had to concede a little because of pressure from global organisations advocating human rights. The recent globally publicised case of a Norwegian woman, Marte Dalelv, stands out. In 2013, when Dalelv, 24 at the time, reported her boss for rape, received a 16-month prison sentence on bogus charges such as `alcohol consumption’. However, under widespread criticism from human rights organisations around the world as well as the western media, she was later given full pardon in addition to allowance to leave the country, while the men involved in this alleged rape were also convicted. In education, especially considering women, there has been drastic improvement in The UAE. According to a report for the Millenium Development Goals – a United nations initiative – in The UAE, the number of women in higher education has risen at a rate unmatched by any other country. As of 2007, women in The UAE have achieved 90% literacy. This report further states that, 95% of women who complete high school go on to higher education and make up a whopping 70% of college graduates in all of The UAE. All these statistics point to a very promising future indeed for the empowerment of women in The UAE.

The current economic and political conditions of The UAE women are mixed. As of 2008-2009, only 21% of its Emirati women comprise a part of the labour force, while 80% of all UAE women are household workers. However, on the other hand, things seem to be improving fast in the business sector with UAE having the highest number of total participation of females in the Gulf Cooperation Council, while women constitute 43% of investors at the Abu Dhabi Security Exchange. The Abu Dhabi Judicial Department appointed the first ever female marriage registrar of the UAE, Fatima Saeed Obaid Al Awani, as recently as 2008, a job hitherto reserved for men until then. The same year, UAE appointed its first female ambassadors, Hassa Al Otaiba in Spain and Sheikha Najla Al Qasimi in Sweden. Another special case to consider is that of Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan al Qasimi, currently the Minister of Foreign Trade (after being promoted from the post of Minister of Economy and Planning which she had held since 2004), who holds the distinction of being the first woman to hold a ministerial post in the country. Rated in Forbes magazine’s 100 most powerful women, Sheikha Lubna has become something of an icon for Emirati women in business.

To conclude, the women in UAE have been hampered much by the culture and the current judicial system, but despite all the ridiculously horrendous atrocities that they are subjected to, their spirit is far from broken and all the recent developments in the business and the education sector seem to herald a promising future.