Picture used for illustrative purposes only.
The late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, a laudable humanitarian and advocate of women’s rights, is famously known to have said: “No matter how many buildings, foundations, schools and hospitals we build, or how many bridges we raise, all these are material entities. The real spirit behind the progress is the human spirit.”
The UAE has come so far in so little time yet never lost sight of what it values the most, its citizens and the diverse people who have chosen to make it their home. This year, the UN Happiness Report ranked the UAE as the twenty-second happiest nation globally and the first among Arab countries. This does not happen by chance, it happens through the hard work and dedication of governments under the guidance of an enlightened leadership, which cares first and foremost about the human spirit.
The UAE has never witnessed a women’s rights movement simply because since its establishment the government has seen women as equals and therefore placed them at the forefront of all endeavours. The urgency for the inclusion of women was there from the very beginning with women’s education becoming one of the founding fathers’ first and most persistent priorities. Today the Emirati woman is as intrinsic in the country’s fabric as her male counterpart participating at every level of both government and private sectors, with many gaining international recognition for their achievements.
In a young nation such as this one it is understandable, even expected, to find outdated laws and issues that are not yet recognised under the country’s penal codes but domestic violence should not be one of them. There is no law governing domestic violence in the UAE, a fact that is neither acceptable nor emblematic of the country’s stance on human rights in general and specifically women’s rights. Ministry officials have shrugged at questions on the non-existence of such a crucial law citing that there is no legal definition of domestic abuse. This technicality cannot be the reason to dismiss the rising figures of domestic violence incidents where women have had no legal rights to leave their abusive relationships on the grounds of being physically harmed. Officials have also debated cultural issues stating outdated ideas of privacy among a family unit. If a woman fears for her life then she should be able to seek refuge, knowing that the law will preserve her rights if she wishes to remove herself from harm’s way regardless of what other members of her family believe. Another excuse given by officials, who I must mention for the sake of this issue, are all men, is that while Western countries may consider some forms of abuse as domestic violence an Arab community could see it as family discipline. I could not make this up if I tried, officials have actually said these excuses out loud and continue to use them to hinder the process of passing this fundamental law. Violence is violence and can in no way be misconstrued as discipline under any circumstance cultural or otherwise. If we are to fight discrimination and injustice against women we must start from the home for if a woman cannot be safe in her own house then she cannot be expected to feel safe anywhere.
The figures do not lie, domestic violence is on the rise and the lack of a law to protect women is not acceptable under any excuse. The UAE does not need the United Nations telling it that this is an infringement on human rights because the UAE believes it to be so and must now act to end the procrastination of the matter because the passing of this law reinforces what the UAE truly is, an avid advocate of human rights.
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