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Women in the United Arab Emirates

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Women in the United Arab Emirates

Women in the United Arab Emirates
Maitha Salem Al-Shamsi, female Minister of State of the United Arab Emirates.
Gender Inequality Index
Value 0.241 (2012)
Rank 40th
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 12 (2010)
Women in parliament 17.5% (2012)
Females over 25 with secondary education 73.1% (2010)
Women in labour force 43.5% (2011)
Global Gender Gap Index[1]
Value 0.6372 (2013)
Rank 109th out of 136

Women in United Arab Emirates have achieved some measures of legal protection in recent years. In 2008–2009, 21% of Emirati women were part of the labor force, whereas 45% of Kuwaiti women were part of the labor force.[2]

Some laws continue to discriminate Emirati women. Emirati women must receive permission from "male guardian" to remarry.[3] The requirement is derived from Sharia law, and has been federal law since 2005.[3] Women in UAE are held to Sharia-derived judicial punishments such as flogging and stoning.


The role of women in UAE society has gradually expanded since the discovery of oil. Before 1960 there were few opportunities for them outside the realm of home and family. In the early 1990s, there were five women's societies promoting various issues of importance to women, including literacy and health.[4]


In 2006, less than 20% of Emirati women were part of the national labor force.[5] UAE has the second lowest percentage of local women working in the GCC.[2] In 2008–2009, only 21% of Emirati women were part of the labor force.[2] UAE has the highest percentage of total female labor participation in the GCC (including expatriate women). However, Kuwait has the highest percentage of local female labor participation in the GCC because more than 45% of Kuwaiti women are part of the national labor force.[2] 80% of women in UAE are classified as household workers (maids).[6] Within the business sector, the UAE possess the largest number of businesswomen in the region where entrepreneurship is becoming increasingly popular. At the nine-year-old Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange, women constitute 43% of its investors while the city’s Businesswomen’s association boasts 14,000 members.[7] At the forefront of Emirati women in business is Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan al Qasimi, appointed Minister for Economy and Planning in November 2004 and subsequently promoted to her current post as Minister of Foreign Trade. Sheikha Lubna holds the distinction of being the first woman to hold a ministerial post in the country. Her efforts have led her to be rated within the Forbes Magazine’s 100 Most Powerful Women.[8]

Dubai Women Establishment

Dubai Women Establishment, lead by Her Highness Shaikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is the first government entity in the UAE that supports and focuses on women in the workforce. The main objective is to increase effective participation of Emirati women in the workforce through different means and tools. They look at international reports and rankings and monitor the UAE rankings and growth, and aim to positively impact Gobal Competitive reports & the Gender Gap report. DWE is involved with research, policy proposals, and activation of women-related regulations in Dubai and the other Emirates, as well as attending networking events and forums, and working on customised development programs, projects and initiatives. They aim is building bridges, sustainable leadership for women, international representation of Emirati women and women in boards. Impact of DWE includes creation of six on-site children’s nurseries at various organisations, which has led to a higher level of female retention and lower turnover rate and Women in Board initiative, where special attention is given to increasing Emirati female representation in boardrooms.[9][10]

The Arab Women Leadership Forum

The Arab Women Leadership Forum, took place in November 2014, which was hosted under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai. This two-day forum focused on competitiveness and how women can contribute to the rankings and growth of countries[9]

Flogging and stoning

The UAE's judicial system is derived from the civil law system and Sharia law. The court system consists of civil courts and Sharia courts. According to Human Rights Watch, UAE's civil and criminal courts apply elements of Sharia law, codified into its criminal code and family law, in a way which discriminates against women.[11]

Women in UAE are victims of flogging and stoning.[12] Flogging and stoning are legal judicial punishments in the UAE due to the Sharia courts. Flogging is used in UAE as a punishment for several criminal offences, such as adultery, premarital sex and prostitution.[13] In most emirates, floggings are frequent with sentences ranging from 80 to 200 lashes.[14][15] Between 2007 and 2013, many women were sentenced to 100 lashes.[13][16][17][18][19][20][21][22] Moreover in 2010 and 2012, several Muslims were sentenced to 80 lashes for alcohol consumption.[23][24] Under UAE law, premarital sex is punishable by 100 lashes.[25]

Stoning is a legal form of judicial punishment in UAE. In 2006, an expatriate was sentenced to death by stoning for committing adultery.[26] Between 2009 and 2013, several people were sentenced to death by stoning.[19][27][28] In May 2014, an Asian woman was sentenced to death by stoning in Abu Dhabi.[29][30][31]

Sharia law dictates the personal status law, which regulate matters such as marriage, divorce and child custody. The Sharia-based personal status law is applied to Muslims and sometimes non-Muslims.[32] Non-Muslim expatriates are liable to Sharia rulings on marriage, divorce and child custody.[32] Sharia courts have exclusive jurisdiction to hear family disputes, including matters involving divorce, inheritances, child custody, child abuse and guardianship of minors. Sharia courts may also hear appeals of certain criminal cases including rape, robbery, driving under the influence of alcohol and related crimes.[33]

Apostasy is a crime punishable by death in the UAE. UAE incorporates hudud crimes of Sharia into its Penal Code - apostasy being one of them.[34] Article 1 and Article 66 of UAE's Penal Code requires hudud crimes to be punished with the death penalty,[34][35] therefore apostasy is punishable by death in the UAE.

Emirati women must receive permission from male guardian to remarry.[3] The requirement is derived from Sharia, and has been federal law since 2005.[3] In all emirates, it is illegal for Muslim women to marry non-Muslims.[36] In the UAE, a marriage union between a Muslim woman and non-Muslim man is punishable by law, since it is considered a form of "fornication".[36]

Politics and government

Within the public sector, governmental employment for Emirati women has increased from 11.6% in 1995, 22% in 2005 and 66% as of June 2007.[7] In September 2008, Hassa Al Otaiba and Sheikha Najla Al Qasimi became the UAE’s first female ambassadors, serving Spain and Sweden respectively.[37]

The UAE became the second Arab country with a female marriage registrar after Egypt.[38] By 2006, women have accounted for over 22% of the Federal National Council.[39] The UAE's minister of state post is Reem Al Hashimi, who is the first female minister to be in this role.[40]

Sexual assault

Human rights groups express concern over what they consider a criminalization of rape victims.[41] In two cases, women who reported being raped were sentenced to prison for "engaging in extramarital relations", as their allegations were considered unfounded by authorities.

Over 50% of women residents in the UAE say that they would not report a rape to police.[42]

In 2008, an Australian woman working in the UAE reported a rape to the authorities and was imprisoned for 8 months for having sex outside of marriage.[43] In 2010, a Muslim woman in Abu Dhabi recanted her allegations of being gang-raped by 6 men, claiming that the police threatened her with corporal punishment for premarital sex.[44] In 2013 a Norwegian woman, Marte Dalelv, received a prison sentence of sixteen months in Dubai for perjury, consensual extramarital sex and alcohol consumption, after she reported her boss to the police for an alleged rape; she was later fully pardoned and allowed to leave the country.[41] Men involved in these alleged rapes were also convicted for extramarital sex.

Nadya Khalife, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, says that "these charges will make young women in the UAE, citizens and tourists alike, think twice about seeking justice and reporting sexual assaults for fear of being charged themselves".[45] She also stated that "the message to women is clear: victims will be punished for speaking out and seeking justice, but sexual assault itself will not be properly investigated".[46]

Male guardianship

All Emirati women have a male guardian. Emirati women must receive permission from male guardian to remarry.[3] The requirement is derived from Sharia, and has been federal law since 2005.[3]

False allegations crimes

Many western associations state that many women who reported rape but were convicted for false allegations are still victims of rape. This is what they call criminalization of rape victims.[47] The Emirates Center for Human Rights expressed concern over Dubai's criminalization of what they call "rape victims".[41]

In Dubai, a woman who engages in consensual extramarital relations and press false allegations of rape can be sentenced to over a year of time in prison.[41]

The Emirates Center for Human Rights states that "Until laws are reformed, victims of sexual violence in the UAE will continue to suffer" referring to a case in July 2013 in which a 24-year-old Norwegian woman reported an alleged rape to the police and received a prison sentence for "perjury, consensual extramarital sex and alcohol consumption" after she admitted lying about the rape.[41][48][49]


The 2007 report on the progress of MDGs in the UAE states, “the proportion of females in higher education has risen remarkably at a rate that has not been achieved in any other country in the world. During the years 1990 to 2004 the number of female university students has grown to double that of male students. This is the result of the promotion and encouragement of women’s education by state and family.”[50] The ratio of literate females within the 15- to 24- year age group rose from 100.5% in 1990 to 110% in 2004, reaching 90% literacy overall in 2007. Upon completion of high school, 95% of Emirati women continue on to higher education and comprise 75% of the student population at the Al Ain national university. Women comprise 70% of college graduates in the UAE.[39][39] According to Dubai Women’s College, 50-60% of its 2,300 students proceed to seek employment upon graduation.[51]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d
  3. ^ a b c d e f
  4. ^ "Status of women". United Arab Emirates: A country study. Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress of the USA (January 1993).  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  5. ^ The Emirati Workforce Page 30
  6. ^ Glass, Amy. "Working women contribute US$3.4bn to the UAE’s economy". Arabian Business (December 2007).
  7. ^ a b "Women in the United Arab Emirates: A Portrait of Progress" (PDF). UAE Ministry of State and Federal National Council Affairs (June 2007).
  8. ^ “The 100 Most Powerful Women.” Forbes (2007).
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^ a b
  33. ^
  34. ^ a b Butti Sultan Butti Ali Al-Muhairi (1996), The Islamisation of Laws in the UAE: The Case of the Penal Code, Arab Law Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 4 (1996), pp. 350-371
  35. ^ Al-Muhairi (1997), Conclusion to the Series of Articles on the UAE Penal Law. Arab Law Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 4
  36. ^ a b
  37. ^ "Sheikha Fatima hails ability of UAE women to undertake national responsibilities." The National Media Council: UAE Interact (September 2008).
  38. ^ “Fatima is UAE's first woman marriage registrar.” Gulf (November 2008).
  39. ^ a b c
  40. ^
  41. ^ a b c d e
  42. ^ “Survey says Arab women unlikely to Report Rape.” Muslim Women (January 2010).
  43. ^ “Brisbane rape victim sues UAE luxury hotel.” (March 2011).
  44. ^ “Abu Dhabi Rape Case Twist as Victim Recants Allegations” ABCnews (May 2011).
  45. ^ “UK couple charged with illegal sex released in Dubai.” BBC News (January 2010).
  46. ^ “Dubai's Shameful Record on Rape.” Human Rights Watch (January 2010).
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^ UNDP Millennium Development Goals United Arab Emirates Report (PDF), p. 14 (March 2007).
  51. ^ "Dubai Women Storm World of Work". BBC News (August 2005).
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