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. In some cases, police shared a victim’s contact information with her/his family, which sometimes reached the assailant. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children managed a shelter in Dubai for domestic abuse victims and was active in increasing awareness of domestic violence problems and avenues available for victims to seek help. For the first half of the year the organization reported 196 cases of domestic violence.
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 led to 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 outside marriage 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, sought to increase awareness of domestic violence, conducting seminars, educational programs, symposiums, and conferences. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children increased awareness of domestic violence through social media, television and radio programming and advertising, by hosting workshops, and by sponsoring a hotline. The organization also offered services to all those residing in or transiting the country, including legal services and rehabilitation programs.
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 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 for “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. Hospitals do not issue birth certificates to children born to unmarried parents, making it difficult for a child to remain in the country or to obtain the necessary documents, such as a passport, to depart. Abortion is generally illegal; however, it is allowed if the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother. The government provides free healthcare to citizens, including access to contraception, obstetric and gynecologic services, prenatal care, and delivery care to married female citizens. Despite this, only 39 percent of women aged 15-49 used a modern method of contraceptives, and 20 percent of women had an unmet need for planning, according to UN Population Fund 2015 estimates. The government did not provide free antenatal care for noncitizen pregnant women.
Discrimination: Women in general faced legal and economic discrimination, with noncitizen women at particular disadvantage. The treatment of Emirati women showed some signs of improvement.
The government’s interpretation of sharia applies in personal status cases and family law. As noted above, the law forbids Muslim women to marry non-Muslims.
In addition, the law permits a man to have as many as four wives; women normally inherit less than men; and a son may inheritance may be double what a daughter’s.
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 provided her or their children’s upkeep. 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.
The law provides for corporal punishment for sexual relations and pregnancy outside of marriage. The government may imprison and deport noncitizen women if they bear children out of wedlock. In previous years, authorities arrested some victims of sexual assault for sexual relations outside of marriage.
Women who worked in the private sector regularly did not receive equal benefits and reportedly faced discrimination in promotions and pay (see section 7.d.).
While foreign men working in the country and earning a salary above a certain level could obtain residency permits for their families for three years, a foreign woman could obtain a one year, renewable permit for her family only if she was working in a job deemed rare or with a specialty such as health care, engineering, or teaching.
While education is equally accessible, 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. Women hold two-thirds of public sector posts, including 30 percent of senior and decision-making positions, according to government estimates.
The government excluded women from certain social benefits including land grants for building houses because tribal family law often designates men as the heads of families.
The government has a Gender Balance Council to promote a greater role for female citizens, but not noncitizens, who were working outside the home. Its activities primarily focused on speaking and awareness raising activities including seminars, workshops, and conferences aimed at educating and empowering women. The government requires female participation on the boards of government agencies and companies.