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Progress or Patriarchy? An Analysis of the UAE’s Commitment to Gender Equalityinits National Legislation

Author: 
Mohamed Khaleifa Alhmoudi
Subject Area: 
Social Sciences and Humanities
Abstract: 

Could the United Arab Emirates (UAE)commit more fully to eliminating gender discrimination by amending its existing legislation and adopting new laws which support and promote gender equality? This article sets out to determine the truth of the claim that its ability to do so is limited due to a conflict with Islamic law which is operational in the UAE and other regions of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). One of the ways this examination does so is by investigating the socio-cultural context from which Islam emerged. It argues that UAE jurisprudence reflects and reinforces a patriarchal model of society which undergirds numerous decrees to be found in the Personal Status Laws, or Muslim Family Law. These are laws that govern marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance and many other matters intrinsic to family life in the UAE which are wholly biased in favour males. Men are given full license in law to preside as guardians over, demand obedience from, supervise and regulate the movement and travel of, and even physically discipline the female members of their household. This arrangement, with its basis in patriarchal complementarity, permeates all inter-familial dealings between the sexes and is contributing to an increase in travel bans, spousal abuse, rape, domestic violence and marital rape, for which there are little to no robust provisions or mechanisms in law or state policy that can act as safeguards for the women these acts are perpetrated against. Despite this state of affairs, the UAE, along with several other Muslim majority states, has signed the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); a convention that strives to guarantee the creation and protection of formal and substantive rights for women by recognising their rights to be human rights. As explicated in this article, CEDAW is a United Nations convention that recognises the dynamic interplay of laws, social relations, religions, custom and cultural traditions in the continued subordination and oppression of women worldwide. A failure to comply with it carries a heavy reputational and image bearing cost before the international community. Pertinent to this investigation is a critique of how to date, the UAE and many other states in MENA have - to a certain extent - been able to evade the full brunt of international censure by habitual appeals to ‘Islamic Law’. These religious appeals have duly been entered into their reservations to CEDAW - notably Article 16 which deals with gender equality in marriage and the family - largely unchallenged. They have functioned to deftly shut down any possibility of disputing patriarchal readings of Islamic Law and meaningful engagement with alternative visions of Islam, as put forth by the many millions of adherents around the globe who advocate for gender equality. Accordingly, this analysis will investigate if cooperation between progressive Muslim groups and the international community, with the aim of fostering enhanced religious dialogue, exchange and literacy could be a strategy for building an infrastructure of jurisprudence that positively promotes gender equality in the UAE, which is then subsequently cascaded to all other MENA states.

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