x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

‘Women’s Law’ would be a step forward for UAE

A wide-ranging law clarifying the status and legal rights of women is a natural progression for the nation.

For more than four decades, the UAE has been at the forefront of the Arab world in defining and defending the rights of women. The nation’s founder, the late Sheikh Zayed, was unequivocal on the subject. “Nothing could delight me more than to see the woman taking up her distinctive position in society,” he said. “Like men, women deserve the right to occupy high positions according to their capabilities and qualifications.”

Great strides have been made to meet the ambition of these words. Only this week Dr Amal Al Qubaisi became the first female member of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council. Historically, the constitution, adopted at federation in 1971, affords certain rights and protection to women. However, there are calls for the clarification of women’s status in the form of a dedicated, wide-ranging “women’s law”.

This newspaper agrees with the thrust of the proposals made by the FNC, but believes that an even more comprehensive law would better serve the UAE at this stage of its development. So far, there has been a piecemeal approach to various aspects of policy that impact women. The National believes it is time for an overarching federal law.

What would such a federal law do? It would take account of the various ways that policy can specifically impact women. Women’s health, family welfare, the safety of women within marriage, and the responsibility of the state for encouraging women to enter the private sector after childbirth; all of these would come under its remit.

Earlier this month, The National reported on moves by the Federal National Council (FNC) to pass a women’s law as a natural progression from the recently enacted Child Rights Law. FNC member Ali Jassim, from Umm Al Quwain, suggested that the women’s law “mainly focus on domestic violence against women and touch on a lot of other aspects related to women”. While the issue of domestic violence is an extremely important one, there are good reasons to make any new law as broad as possible.

One important area is women’s health, which is why The National has launched its Women’s Health campaign. As we reported yesterday, many women are putting their health at risk due to back-to-back pregnancies and a lack of regular medical examinations. Doctors say some women allow their health to deteriorate as they juggle the demands of motherhood and having a career. As Sultan Al Sammahi, an FNC member from Sharjah, suggested women’s health problems may be exacerbated by the differences in health-insurance laws between the emirates. There are also cultural considerations that may prevent some women from having what they perceive as invasive or embarrassing medical examinations.

Women are often at a disadvantage when it comes to divorce, and there is a shortage of shelters and other help for wives trying to escape violent husbands. Lawyers have also recently reported an “alarming” increase in sexual harassment cases. Even in areas where advances have been made, more could be done. For example, UAE private-sector employers are only required to provide 45 days of maternity leave, far short of the International Labor Organization’s minimum standard of 60 days. Many workplaces do not provide access to childcare or facilities for mothers who are breastfeeding. In these areas, a federal law could make a real difference, forcing the public and private sectors to change and providing women with a great opportunity to re-enter the workplace after having children.

Certainly, a broad “women’s law” will not be a panacea; it won’t immediately break down all the barriers women face in everyday life. But the issue of health, women’s safety and family welfare is so important it should apply across the emirates. A UAE-wide, federal law would be an important statement of intent backed by legal force, reinforcing the national commitment that nothing should hinder a woman’s progress in society.