The United Arab Emirates has announced several changes to their legal system, including the abolishment of forgiving verdicts for honour killings, fewer alcohol restrictions, and an ability for noncitizens to be excluded from Islamic law considering inheritance and divorce. The modified laws are supposed to attract tourists and funding from investors, by diminishing the roles of Islamic codes in the country’s justice system. The idea is to brand the United Arab Emirates as a globalized, more progressive country that attracts professionals and investors. The legal changes will improve protections and rights for foreign women, however, Emirati women will still be exposed to gender discrimination.
On Sunday, November 8th, the state-run Emirates News Agency declared the legal changes, referring to them as the most significant repairment of the government in years. The decision includes encouraging diversity with the goal of labeling the country as “one of the most socially and economically attractive countries in the world.” The Emirates hope to attract more investors and tourists from Israel especially, as their relationship with them was normalized earlier this year.
The Emirates has a population of 10 million people, but almost 90 percent of them are foreigners with work visas. Because of the economic opportunities and high salaries in the country, the flow of immigration has increased in the past years. Additionally, the Emirates has no income tax collected from individuals. Many of the people immigrating are professionals from Europe, the United States, and Arab countries. However, the majority of the population are low-paid workers from Southern Asia.
With the new changes, laws on divorce will depend on what country the marriage took place in, and inheritance will be related to the regulations in the deceased person’s home country. Furthermore, the government of the United Arab Emirates is built on Islamic and Sharia law, which has been complicated in a country with such a high level of diversity. Along with this, the female population has faced several challenges and inequalities, as their rights have not been emphasized or protected. The new legal changes intend to abolish light sentences for honor crimes, meaning more men will be prosecuted for abusing or killing a female relative. These crimes will now be considered in the same category as any other type of assault or homicide.
Moreover, according to the New York Times, cases of sexual assault will now include tougher punishments, with a maximum fine increasing to about US$27,000. Rothna Begum, Senior Women’s Rights Researcher at Human Rights Watch, stated “Some of these reforms are quite important,” and referred specifically to the removal of lenient sentences “that allow men to kill and harm women in the name of honor.”
The protections are considered a step in the right direction, however, the legal changes have not been written down anywhere in actual legal statements. Also, the modified laws only pertain to foreign women, but not to Emirati women, which means they are still victims of discriminatory laws.For a long period of time, Sharia laws have controlled the female population. Still, women must be given consent from a male relative to marry or remarry, and marriages with non-muslims are illegal. In order to establish gender equality in the United Arab Emirates, all women must be included in legalized protections. According to Rothna Begum, “You can get away with a lot in Dubai,” she said. “The problem is that they still have a lot of discrimination depending on who you are.”
The legal changes in the Emirates reflect an overall improvement and attempt to encourage diversity and include protections. However, international partners and organizations must be critical and demand rights to be applied to all parts of society, including Emirati women.
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