x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Government looks to more rights for women

Allowing Emirati women to pass on nationality, workplace issues and domestic violence are all on the Government agenda, official says.

Dr Abdel Rahim al Awadi says efforts to improve women's rights are vital.
Dr Abdel Rahim al Awadi says efforts to improve women's rights are vital.

ABU DHABI // The Government may be edging towards granting Emirati mothers who marry non-Emirati husbands the right to pass their nationality onto their children, a senior official said yesterday in response to a UN report on ending discrimination against women.

Dr Abdul Rahim al Awadi, the assistant minister for legal affairs and international organisations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also weighed in on topics ranging from violence against women to the need for more statistical information relating to women. The UN report, which was released last month after a meeting between UAE and UN officials in Geneva, highlighted several areas in which the UAE could better protect women, including doing more to prevent domestic violence and improving working conditions for foreign women.

"I liked the report as a whole, although there are some parts, some remarks on some areas to be taken care of and I think this is to be expected," Dr al Awadi said. "Nobody's perfect. As long as there is political will and as long as there is work on the ground towards the issue of women's rights," he said. The report by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women noted the Government's efforts to amend the Nationality and Passports Law to enable Emirati women to transfer their nationality to their children.

"We are a step further than just assessment, we are beyond that level because there is a team working on how to find the right solution and the options," Dr al Awadi said. The report also said the UAE lacked sufficient statistical information on women's rights - such as the number of women being trafficked into the country, on victims of domestic violence, and on education, health and employment for women in rural areas.

It also suggested the Constitution does not "embody the principle of equality between women and men", and said it does not contain a definition of discrimination against women. However, Dr al Awadi said that, by simply referring to UAE citizens, the Constitution implicitly covers the rights of both men and women. At the end of January, Reem al Hashemi, the Minister of State, led a 25-member UAE delegation that met with the UN committee for a full day in Geneva to address the UAE's compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), which the Government signed in 2004.

The committee, which called the exchange a "frank, open, and constructive dialogue", also urged the UAE to "strengthen the legal protection" of foreign women workers to prevent abuses such as non-payment of wages, and to include migrant workers in the labour law. It further called for greater awareness about workers' rights and increased access to complaint mechanisms. During the hearing, Ms al Hashemi told the committee a new law to protect domestic workers, which is being drafted, would better define their rights.

However, the committee said it "regrets" that the UAE did not have a specific law on violence against women, and that it was "deeply concerned" about a lack of protection, in particular, for female migrant workers. Yesterday, Dr al Awadi, who was the deputy head of the UAE's delegation, said provisions in the criminal code covered victims of violence against women. The committee further recommended the UAE introduce legislative reforms to "provide women with equal rights in marriage, divorce, property relations, the custody of children and inheritance", and also called for the establishment of an independent national human rights institution.

During the hearing in January, organisations such as Mafiwasta, a UAE migrant workers' rights group, presented the committee with shadow reports. Nick McGeehan from Mafiwasta described the report as containing "constructive criticism" especially on the protection of foreign workers. "The UAE is to be commended for its appearance before a very critical committee," he said. "Criticism should not be seen as reflecting badly on the country, but rather as an opportunity to bring the country into line with international minimum standards."

zconstantine@thenational.ae