x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Equal rights for Emirati women with new decree

The granting of citizenship to children of non-Emirati fathers is monumental, especially for the rights it bestows on Emirati women.

Children born to Emirati women and foreign fathers, long lost on the margins of citizenship, are finally being recognised. Forty years after the country's founding, Sheikh Khalifa, the UAE President, issued a decree yesterday giving Emirati children - regardless of paternity - the right to apply for citizenship when they turn 18.

This move is, of course, a welcome one for children. But most of all this policy is monumental for the rights it bestows on Emirati women, both legal and psychological. In a region where equality, status and power are almost universally conferred to men, yesterday's decree will help level the playing field.

"Now my baby will have the same rights like his siblings," says Hala Kazim, a 48-year-old Emirati with five children, and one born to a Scottish-Egyptian dad. "This changes a lot of Emirati women's lives," she said.

Indeed it does. Most significantly it sends a strong message that Emirati women are equal to men under the law, a position few Arab countries have taken. Only four other Arab states have similar laws - Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Yemen. In most Arab countries legal codes favour the man, and prevent a woman from passing citizenship to her children. This gender-centred citizenship system has caused a great deal of hardship for children and parents alike.

But this step is also just one of many moves the Emirates has taken in recent years to promote gender equality. In a landmark Supreme Court ruling last year, women in the UAE were exempted from having to obtain their husbands' permission to travel.

The new decree does raise new questions. While the language stipulates that children of foreign fathers can apply for citizenship when they turn 18, the obvious concern is that applications might not automatically be successful. Children of foreign fathers and Emirati women already can apply for UAE citizenship but this marks the first official decree calling for them to do so. But what happens to children who are under 18?

Untold numbers of children will benefit from this decision, and any shift that tackles the demographic imbalance in the country.

But most of all, yesterday was a monumental one for Emirati women. It's just one more reason to celebrate.