Dubai laws for women

Article author
28 Aug 2023
28 Aug 2023
In this article

Numerous individuals hold the mistaken belief that the absence of women's rights in the UAE is a result of religious prerequisites. However, this perspective does not align with the actual situation. Despite the presence of numerous limitations, it cannot be contended that the rights and liberties of women in the UAE are constrained. This piece will delve into the regulations in Dubai and their impact on the lives of Emirati women.

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What rights do women have in the UAE?

Main aspects  

  1. Education. Women in the UAE enjoy equal opportunities for education across all levels, including higher education and vocational training. It's worth noting that prior to enrollment, they are required to secure the consent of a male guardian. 
  2. Driving a car: The UAE permits women to take driving tests and operate vehicles, placing them on par with their male counterparts. 
  3. Employment. Women possess the right to engage in the labor market, select professions, and receive equitable compensation for their work. However, certain physical activities might be restricted for them. 
  4. Political engagement. In the UAE, women possess voting rights and can stand for election to positions within the Federal Parliament, standing on equal ground with men. 
  5. Business ventures. All Emirati women are entitled to establish and foster their own businesses.

Workforce engagement  

In the United Arab Emirates, the nation actively supports women's integration into the economic fabric. UAE labor laws firmly establish the principle of gender equality in employment, although certain limitations occasionally emerge. Notably, women are prohibited from working during nighttime hours, and their career decisions necessitate approval from their guardian, usually their husband or another male figure.

Educational landscape  

Within the realm of education, women in the UAE possess the right to pursue learning across all levels, subject to guardian consent. Higher education avenues are open to Emirati women, enabling them to hold positions within universities and research institutions. Many schools in Dubai foster a mixed-gender educational environment.

Political participation  

Women wield the right to cast their votes and stand for election to the Federal Parliament in the UAE. A significant stride was taken in 2019 when women were incorporated into the General Council of the UAE and the Council of Deputies. A specific number of seats, either 50% or 20 positions, are reserved for women in these bodies. However, due to the monarchical structure, women are precluded from assuming the country's leadership, as succession is limited to male offspring.

Financial equality  

An essential legal framework promoting women's employment in the UAE is the principle of equal pay. Enshrined in Federal Law, this principle mandates equivalent compensation for both genders when performing commensurate work.

Family dynamics  

As per the laws of the UAE, marriage is permissible at the age of 18. Nonetheless, the Quran does permit marriages involving teenagers under 18, given the court's approval or the girl's father's consent. The concept of polygamy is recognized for men in the UAE, provided that all wives are treated equally. Notably, societal pressure often compels women to wed the «suitable» partner, even if it goes against their wishes. The prevailing tradition, where parents select their daughter's betrothed, holds significant influence within the culture.

In instances of extramarital pregnancy, women find themselves in precarious situations. Pre-marital intercourse is prohibited by law, forcing women to either undergo childbirth or seek abortions abroad. However, another obstacle emerges: even if a woman becomes aware of her pregnancy in a timely manner, travel outside the country may prove unfeasible due to stringent familial oversight, especially for UAE citizens. Yet, the authorities might refrain from legal actions if the offender marries the child's father.

Dissimilar to men who can initiate immediate divorce, women must engage with the court for divorce proceedings. Custody of the children generally falls to the mother. Sons are under maternal custody until 11 years old, and daughters until 13. Post this period, the ex-husband obtains a precedence for full custody.

The UAE applies distinct standards to local and foreign women. Recognizing potential cultural disparities that might isolate foreign nationals, the authorities enforce less stringent regulations on female tourists. For instance, in Abu Dhabi, cohabitation is permissible for non-Muslim foreigners, implying gender equality under specific stipulations. However, for local women, laws concerning marriage, divorce, and child custody remain constrained by legal restrictions.

Wedding of the UAE prime minister Mohammed bin Rashid daughter

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Ensuring safety and preventing violence

Women enjoy a high level of safety in the UAE throughout the day. Their rights within Dubai and the broader UAE are vigilantly safeguarded by legal provisions. This assurance empowers women to venture out at night without companions and use taxis without apprehension. The UAE's stringent legal framework results in severe consequences for violations, with a significant likelihood of apprehension.

The UAE possesses federal legislation addressing domestic violence, aiming to shield women from physical, sexual, psychological, and financial abuse within families. As stipulated in Article 9 (1) 10 of the 2019 UAE Federal Law «On Protection from Domestic Violence,» individuals perpetrating domestic violence can face imprisonment for up to six months or a fine reaching 5,000 dirhams. However, the interpretation of this law varies within each family, as men themselves establish the parameters of acceptable conduct within their households. Notably, the law doesn't extend its protection to ex-husbands, frequently leaving women as victims. Furthermore, it requires the victim's reconciliation with the perpetrator prior to criminal prosecution.

Women's healthcare considerations  

The field of medicine in the UAE is progressive and contemporary, offering equal access to medical care for women and men. Nevertheless, a distinctive aspect of UAE medical practice is the prohibition on abortions. Violation of this law can lead to a year of imprisonment or substantial fines. Exceptions for termination of pregnancy exist only in cases of fetal health issues, life incompatibility, or maternal life-threatening circumstances. Even in such scenarios, abortion is permissible solely during the first 120 days of pregnancy.

Childbirth and maternity leave  

Parental leave is unavailable for women in the UAE, but they can access leave during pregnancy. The length of such leave varies depending on the woman's employer, ranging from 45 to 60 days. Upon returning to work, mothers are entitled to additional hours for breastfeeding. These hours can be utilized during a two-hour lunch break or as shorter breaks throughout the workday.

Ownership of property and real estate  

Women within the UAE have the opportunity to invest in real estate, secure loans, or acquire property using personal funds, subject to guardian approval. Following Sharia principles, women might inherit a smaller portion of property compared to men. To mitigate this discrepancy, families can opt to create a will through a notary.

Constraints and limitations affecting Emirati women  

In the UAE, prevailing social and cultural norms exert influence on women's behavior, attire choices, and societal roles. While foreign women face no stringent regulations on appearance, native UAE female citizens typically adhere to conservative conventions, favoring modest attire.

Certain industries in the UAE impose limitations on women's career prospects. Sectors such as engineering, construction, and military fields are exclusively accessible to men. This stems from the belief that these roles might prove excessively physically demanding for women.

The UAE upholds the tradition of «male guardianship,» wherein a male relative (father, husband, or brother) assumes responsibility for a woman's life. This practice is intrinsic to many Muslim countries. It entails that a UAE woman necessitates the consent of her male guardian for significant life decisions. This includes matters like marriage, education, travel within the country and abroad, employment, opening a bank account, or undergoing planned medical procedures.

The curtailment of women's freedom coupled with their dependency on male guardians obstructs their progress in careers, work, and even daily activities. Arab women often report a lack of agency in selecting educational institutions or workplaces due to the dominance of guardians. This contributes to a shortage of highly skilled professionals within the country. Routine actions like attending excursions or leaving home might require a woman to secure her guardian's approval.

Representatives of the UN Women structure for women and girls’ empowerment

Attire and adornments

A noteworthy initial regulation pertains to beach activities. Nudity is unequivocally proscribed on UAE beaches. Additionally, women are strictly prohibited from sunbathing topless, with potential repercussions ranging from administrative measures to imprisonment.

Muslim women are expected to maintain modesty in attire, avoiding provocative clothing and excessive jewelry. This principle of conservative appearance extends to foreign tourists as well, albeit with certain freedoms. Female visitors are advised against donning short dresses, t-shirts, shorts, and conspicuous jewelry in public settings. Conversely, UAE citizens typically don an abaya, a traditional Arab dress characterized by long sleeves and an open face, while minimizing jewelry.

In the context of public transportation, female passengers are advised to utilize women's cars or designated seats within general train compartments.

Is solo female travel to the UAE advisable?  

A prominent advantage of solo female travel to the UAE is the assurance of personal safety. The UAE is renowned for its exceptional security measures, making it one of the global leaders in this regard. In major city centers like Abu Dhabi and Dubai, women can venture out at night without harboring concerns.

Nonetheless, there exist certain constraints for foreign women, aligning with culturally accepted norms. Dressing conservatively and avoiding provocative clothing is a customary practice, particularly in places of worship like mosques. Public displays of intimate gestures are also discouraged. Expressing emotions in moderation is favored; conflicts are typically resolved calmly and amicably in the UAE.

Etiquette on public streets  

Within the UAE, limitations are placed on physical affection shown in public spaces. Kissing and fervent embraces are disapproved of. Situations such as a woman sitting on a man's lap are deemed violations of both etiquette and law. Breaching these protocols could lead to arrest, possibly resulting in a 10-day sentence.

To accommodate tender displays of affection, specific venues exist where such constraints do not apply. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, and discotheques are settings where couples can openly express their affections.

Adhering to dress code standards during outings is of paramount importance. Transparent garments, mini-skirts, low-cut, open-back, or belly-baring clothing should be avoided. Offenders of this code are subject to verbal warnings twice before incurring a $100 fine on the third violation.

There are more loyal rules for foreign women in the UAE

Effective interactions with locals

Whether engaging with a male or female, it's advised to refrain from inquiring about personal matters or family details. Instead, initiating discussions on culture, weather, or current neutral news is more suitable.

Should you encounter someone engaged in prayer in public, displaying respect is paramount. Avoid prolonged stares or discussions about their conduct.

When greeting an individual of Arab origin, a handshake holds significance as a display of respect. This gesture should also be employed when parting ways.

Upon receiving an invitation, declining beverages like tea, coffee, or other refreshments is discouraged. Accepting these offerings demonstrates respect towards the host. Additionally, remember to remove your shoes upon entering the host's residence.


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