A desert vacation city visited for its rich culture, futuristic amenities, royal palaces, lavish mosques and sky-scraping buildings, Dubai attracts tourists from all over the world at first glance. The city is the capital of the Muslim-ruled country, the United Arab Emirates – which boasts a booming economy – and is one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East. 

Women in Dubai enjoy a variety of rights both in business and education not otherwise granted from nearby Muslim-majority countries. Compared to the U.S., however, there are still some vast differences. For one, elements derived from Sharia Law are still implemented in the UAE judicial system. Women need permission from their husbands to remarry, public displays of affection are highly offensive and could lead to an arrest and couples who engage in premarital sex are subject to prison time. Modest clothing is also required for some public areas, such as the mall, but some locals said officials are more lenient on that rule with the rise of tourism. 

Flogging, punishment in the form of receiving lashes, was suspended in 2014 and replaced with prison terms. Between 2007-2014, nearly 100 Muslim people were lashed for criminal offenses such as adultery and drinking alcohol. Flogging was not applicable to non-Muslim people.

Hope and confidence for the progression of women in the UAE can be heard from participating business women in Dubai and echoed by Achbar Hinda, a Moroccan fashion influencer living in Dubai. She shared that strides continue to be made under the UAE government to ensure women are achieving full gender equality. In the neighboring country, Saudi Arabia, women received the right to drive motor vehicles just two years ago. 

The Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE since 2006, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has been vocal about these sentiments and created the Dubai Women Establishment (DWE) upon entering office. The DWE aims to: 

“Leverage public and private sector networks to create a positive perception about participating women, capitalize on DWE’s knowledge to influence policies that are more conducive to Emirati women in the workplace and work-life balance opportunities, and provide services which directly address the multiple needs of participating women towards greater personal & professional development.”

But the UAE didn’t stop there. In 2015, the government established the UAE Gender Balance Council, “to ensure that Emirati women continue to play a leading role in the development of the UAE.” The Council is responsible for implementing and ensuring federal institutions are making progress in their gender balance targets. By 2021, the UAE aims to become one of the world’s top 25 countries for gender equality. 

While the UAE has many human rights differences compared to other Western countries and controversial cases involving tourists, women seem to be making impressive reforms. In politics, women make up 27 percent of the total ministers and hold positions in portfolios of tolerance, happiness and youth. At 22 years old, Shamma bint Sohail Faris Al Mazrui took office as the Minister of State for Youth Affairs in 2016. Approximately 66% of women hold public sector jobs, which is one of the highest percentages in the world, with 30% of women holding senior leadership positions. 

Written ByJamie Joseph

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