Gender equality under the UAE Laws
A deep dive into the regulatory obligations to promote
Traditionally, women have been the backbone of the social structure of the United Arab Emirates and they continue to remain a part of maintaining the nation’s culture. With the ongoing evolution of UAE society, the government has taken substantial steps towards gender empowerment and women’s inclusion in the political, economic and social spheres. This has been achieved through institutional, regulatory and legislative measures brought about in line with the principles of gender equality as set out in the UAE Constitution which upholds women’s access to education, social and healthcare benefits, the right to hold government offices, practice any profession of their choice and to inherit property.
The UAE Constitution is a legacy of UAE’s founding father, HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan who was one of the most progressive and forward-thinking leaders of the region. It was his view that: “Women have the right to work everywhere. Like men, women deserve the right to occupy high positions according to their capabilities and qualifications.” He believed that women should be given the right to occupy positions of power by virtue of their merit rather than gender.
- Federal Law No. 2 of 2015 on combating discrimination and hatred prohibits (“UAE Anti-Discrimination Law”) and penalises any form discrimination. “A person shall be punished by imprisonment for at least five years and/ or a fine of at least AED 500,000 (five hundred thousand), but not over AED 1,000,000 (one million) if such person commits any of the acts that may create any form of discrimination, by any means of expression or other forms or by using any means.” (Article 6 UAE Anti-Discrimination Law)
- Federal No: 8 of 1980 (“UAE Labour Law”) regulates labour relations in the UAE. A woman shall be paid the same wage as a man if she performs the same work. “The woman shall be granted a similar wage to the man if she was conducting the same work, or another of equivalent value”. (Article 32 UAE Labour Law)
- UAE Labour Law further prohibits termination of women’s contract due to pregnancy. “The employer shall not terminate or serve a termination notice to a female worker for being pregnant. The termination in this case shall be deemed an arbitrary dismissal pursuant to the provisions of Article (122) of this Law”. (Article 30 UAE Labour Law)
- Previously, there were restrictions on women working at night hours, working in jobs deemed hazardous and women working in the mining, construction, manufacturing, energy, water, and agriculture and transportation sectors. These restrictions have been removed and women now have the equal right to work in these industries. (Federal Decree by Law No. 6 of 2019)
- In addition to the above efforts towards women representation and protection, there have also been developments in terms of recognising the role of working fathers with regards to raising a child which was primarily viewed as a mother’s responsibility. Federal Decree Law. No 6 of 2020has amended the UAE Labour Law to introduce five paid working days of parental leave. “The Employee shall be granted a paid parental leave for five working days to care for his baby, that shall be due from the date of birth until the completion of six months”. (Article 74 UAE Labour Law)
Political & Board Representation
- From the first parliamentary election held in 2016, men and women have equal right to vote and stand for elections in the Federal National Council of the UAE.
- Men and women have the right to hold cabinet post. The cabinet therefore requires 29.5 % female ministers.
- Under the President of UAE Resolution No. 1 of 2019, it is mandated that Emirati women must occupy 50% of the Federal National Council’s seats.
- Similarly, a decision by the UAE cabinet of ministers mandates representation of Emirati women on boards of federal bodies, companies, and institutions. (Cabinet Decision No 319/15/22 of 2012)
- Ensuring access to economic resources is fundamental in ensuring empowerment. The UAE Central Bank is supporting UAE initiatives and programs to promote gender balance. All banking and financial institutions were notified by the UAE Central Bank under Notice No: 3457/2015 that “In support of the UAE’s objectives of achieving gender equality as a sustainable approach, banks and other financial institutions are required to provide services to their individual and business owner customers, from both genders, equally and to develop policies and procedures that promote gender equality in all banking and financial transactions, including loans and credit facilities.”
- Federal Law No. 3 of 1987 (“UAE Penal Code”) criminalises sexual harassment of women. “Whoever assaults a female in a public road or frequently visited place in an immodest manner with words or actions shall be punished by imprisonment for a term of not more one year and/or to a fine of not more than one hundred thousand Dirhams.” (Article 359 of UAE Penal Code)
- Federal Decree No. 10 of 2019 (“UAE Domestic Violence Law”) protects all family members from domestic violence regardless of gender. According to this law, whoever commits any domestic violence acts which include physical, emotional, sexual, and economic abuse shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a maximum period of six months and to a maximum fine of Dh5,000, or either of these two penalties.
The victim may further request the public prosecution for a restraining order obligating the abuser of the following: “1. To stay away from the victim; 2. To stay away from the places prescribed for protecting the victim or any other place mentioned in the restraining order. 3. Not to afflict damage on the personal property of the victim or any of his family members. 4. To enable the victim or his delegate to receive his necessary personal belongings. 5. Any other procedures the Public Prosecution deems necessary to include in the restraining order, which would provide effective protection of the victim or any persons who are likely to be exposed to harm due to their relationship with the victim.” (Article 6 of UAE Domestic Violence Law)
- The President has also approved amendments Federal Decree-Law No. 15 of 2020 to the UAE Penal Code repealed Article 334 of the UAE Penal Code which allowed reduced sentence in offenses committed by male relatives against women also known as “honour crimes”.
It is evident that the UAE does not intend to stagnate with regards to its gender equality policies giving due regard to the fact that that between 2019 and 2020, the UAE approved 11 laws and legislative amendments to strengthen women’s rights. While some may call it positive discrimination, it is key that women are provided the platform to bring them on equal footing with men as a starting point.
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