Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, which is punishable by death under the penal code. The penal code does not address spousal rape. The penal code allows men to use physical means, including violence, at their discretion against female and minor family members. Punishments issued by courts in domestic abuse cases were often minimal. According to local media, the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children dealt with 453 cases of domestic abuse at a shelter in Dubai during the first half of the year, an increase above 2014 attributed to increased awareness of domestic violence problems and avenues available for victims to seek help.
In general the government did not enforce domestic abuse laws effectively, and domestic abuse against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem. There were reports employers raped or sexually assaulted foreign domestic workers. These cases rarely went to court, and those that did had few convictions. In sharia courts, which are primarily responsible for civil matters between Muslims, the extremely high burden of proof for a rape case contributed to a low conviction rate. Additionally, female victims of rape or other sexual crimes faced the possibility of prosecution for consensual sex instead of receiving assistance from authorities.
Victims of domestic abuse may file complaints with police units stationed in major public hospitals. Social workers and counselors, usually female, also maintained offices in public hospitals and police stations. Women, however, often were reluctant to file formal charges of abuse for social, cultural, and economic reasons. There were domestic abuse centers in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras al Khaimah, and Sharjah.
The government, in coordination with social organizations, undertook efforts to increase awareness about domestic violence, conducting seminars, educational programs, symposiums, and conferences. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children increased awareness about domestic violence by hosting workshops in schools and universities and by sponsoring radio advertisements about the services the organization offers to all those residing in or transiting the country.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not address FGM/C, although the Ministry of Health prohibits hospitals and clinics from performing the procedure. The practice was rare and largely confined to foreign residents.
Sexual Harassment: The government prosecutes harassment via the penal code. Conviction of “disgracing or dishonoring” a person in public is punishable by a minimum of one year and up to 15 years in prison if the victim is under age 14. Conviction of “infamous” acts against the rules of decency is punishable by a penalty of six months in prison, and “dishonoring a woman by word or deed on a public roadway” is also a punishable offense.
Reproductive Rights: Married couples have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children; have the information and means to do so; and have the right to attain the highest standard of reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Authorities typically deported unmarried noncitizen workers who become pregnant. Abortion is illegal; however, authorities may make exceptions if the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother. The government only provides access to contraception, obstetric and gynecologic services, prenatal care, and delivery care to married female citizens. The government did not provide antenatal care for noncitizen pregnant women.
Discrimination: The treatment of citizen and noncitizen women differed. The treatment of Emirati women showed some signs of improvement, while noncitizen women continued to face women’s rights abuses.
Women faced legal and economic discrimination. The government’s interpretation of sharia applies in personal status cases and family law. The law forbids Muslim women to marry non-Muslims. Unlike men, female citizens married to noncitizens do not automatically pass citizenship to their children. A 2011 presidential decree gives children with Emirati mothers and non-Emirati fathers the right to apply for citizenship at age 18. The government granted citizenship to the children of Emirati mothers during the year. In August the government announced that children with citizen mothers and foreign fathers may enlist for national military service, which is required of citizens.
The law permits a man to have as many as four wives. Women normally inherit less than men under the government’s interpretation of sharia. A son may inherit double what a daughter inherits when their parent dies.
For a woman to obtain a divorce with a financial settlement, she must prove her husband inflicted physical or moral harm upon her, abandoned her for at least three months, or had not maintained her upkeep or that of their children. Alternatively, women may divorce by paying compensation or surrendering their dowry to their husbands. Strict interpretation of sharia does not apply to child custody cases, as courts have applied the “the best interests of the child” standard since 2010.
Sex outside of marriage is a crime, and the government may imprison and deport noncitizen women if they bear children out of wedlock. Authorities arrested some individuals who were victims of sexual assault for engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage; authorities usually commuted prison sentences or fined the victims for other less serious offenses.
Women who worked in the private sector regularly did not receive equal benefits and reportedly faced discrimination in promotions and equality of wages (see section 7.d for additional information).
While foreign men working in the country could obtain residency permits for their families for three years, a foreign woman could obtain permits for her family only if she was working in a job deemed rare or with a specialty such as health care, engineering, or teaching. Such a permit was renewable for one-year.
The government reported that 95 percent of citizen women pursued higher education after high school, and women constituted more than 70 percent of government university students. Federal law prohibits coeducation in public schools and universities, except in the United Arab Emirates University’s Executive MBA program and in certain graduate programs at Zayed University. A large number of private schools, private universities, and institutions, however, were coeducational.
The government often excluded women from certain social benefits including land grants for building houses because tribal family law often designates men as the heads of families.
In February the government formed a Gender Balance Council to promote a greater role for female citizens who were working outside the home. To date the council has primarily engaged in speaking and awareness raising activities. The GWU also supported the rights of women, children, and families by introducing seminars, workshops, and conferences aimed at educating and empowering women. The government requires female participation on the boards of government agencies and companies.