The UAE is Indirectly Teaching Women to be Independent

On December 22, 2020, the UAE signed Decree-Law, No.5. It amends Law No.28 of 2005 that provided family law provisions regarding matters between husbands and wives. No. 28 of 2005 set the law for a husband’s financial liability to his wife in case of marital difficulties or divorce. It applied Islamic principles to each of five provisions under certain conditions. The five provisions are: 1. Financial support provided by the husband to his wife 2. The ability for wives to work outside of the house 3. Divorce by proxy 4. Arbitration between the husband and wife 5. Monetary compensation paid between spouses5.

The conditions for Islamic jurisprudence to take precedence are on the absence of law found in a legislative text {No.28, article(2(1)}, and the jurisprudence must be according to Sunni law. Furthermore, if the law’s basis still cannot be determined, the Maliki school of Sunni law is applied, then the law of Hanbali, the Shafa’i, and the Hanafi, respectively.

The 2020 amended Decree-Law No.5 adds conditions under which the wife would lose her right to financial support from her husband:

1. Refusal to have sexual intercourse with her husband without valid justification

2. Desertion of the house without a valid reason

3. Preventing the husband from entering the house

4. Wife sentenced to prison for committing a crime

For the most democratic country in the Middle East, this sounds like a step backward. However, take a closer look at how this plays out. Decree-Law No.28 allowed women to work outside of the home. It fostered the 2007 start-up of the “Pink-Taxi’s,” a service for women drivers only. Not only could women work, but they were also entitled to financial support from their husbands if things went wrong in the marriage.… as long as they were saying yes to sex.

The 2020 amendment confirms that a woman’s work is not a violation of her marital duties (article.71). Therefore, if a woman refuses to have sex with her husband because she has an early work shift or is extremely tired from her workday, this could be considered a valid justification for saying no to sex. It may seem to represent a small win, nevertheless a stride towards more power and independence. On the other hand, the 2020 amendment confirms that a woman will lose financial support from her husband if she deserts the house or prevents her husband from entering. The bottom line, she can’t say no to sex forever. But, she has the tools within the 2020 amendment to request her husband to divorce her by proxy. The husband only has to exclaim verbally to an arbitrator and two witnesses to divorce his wife {article 120(1)}. The arbitrators decided matters of financial compensation in addition to alimony and child support {article 120(5)}.

Why does this matter?

The UAE leads along with Israel in modeling a blend of capitalistic and democratic principles for business, trade, tourism, technology, science, health, and gender equality. In a region set to undergo further transformation under the Abraham Accord, the 2020 Decree-law No.5 amendment directly reiterates Sunni principles yet indirectly softens the orthodoxy of those principles. The Decree appears to tighten the locks on keeping women subservient but adds a back door towards gender equality. Rudimentary cultural norms are maintained, while indirectly, the UAE is teaching women to be independent.

Both Decree’s signals a shift in social and political attitudes. Economically, the UAE has experienced positive results with women in the workforce. Governmentally, though not at high levels, women contribute different points of view and have a measured influence on maintaining stability and peace. All the while indirectly, women learn to become independent with the financial ability to sustain themselves without a husband.

While the Middle East region still has a way to go regarding gender equality, businesses looking to trade with signatories of the Abraham Accord should think of the region industrially akin to the U.S. in the 1940s. There are different levels of opportunities from the ground up per country in the region; from manufacturing and banking, to technology and infrastructure. Political opportunities for engagement and new partnerships are likely to unfold. Women’s continual independence in the UAE may be the thing to measure in terms of political stability in the region.

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