White women arguably get a better deal in life than any of their fellow females around the world. Women’s rights still has a long way to go in terms of restoring the gender pay gap and cracking down on other forms of discrimination, but when it comes to basic freedoms and human rights, western women are treated fairly and more or less in line with the way their male counterparts are in day to day life. Unfortunately, many parts of the world urgently need to catch up with the times, as evidenced by some very strict laws and views still held today.
Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia are notoriously strict and harsh about what women can and cannot do on a daily basis, but across the border in the United Arab Emirates, the seemingly modern country of Dubai has some similar restrictions and strange views that female travelers should probably be wary of. Dubai is often presented as a luxurious haven for expats due to its virtually tax-free status and is home to some of the wealthiest people on the planet, but beneath the allure, there is a dark side to their society.
What we consider social norms for women living in the western world seem to have harsh limits put in place over in Dubai and many of the things we take for granted as white women seem to be prohibited at every corner. Everything from your dress sense to marriage and your rights concerning domestic abuse takes on a warped view in the UAE. If you were ever thinking about moving to Dubai as a western woman, there are some things you should probably know first.
15. Reporting Assault Can Lead To Being Prosecuted For Doing “It” Before Marriage
This has to be one of the most sickening laws in Dubai and in the United Arab Emirates as a whole, and this is the incredibly controversial law that means that women can be persecuted for reporting their own rape. In one 2016 case, a British woman living in Dubai was sexually assaulted by two other men, but instead of receiving sympathy and support from the local authorities, the woman faced a puzzling and immoral ordeal at the hands of some ridiculously messed up laws.
When any ordinary woman would have been perceived as the victim, the UK woman was accused of engaging in extra-marital sex and had her passport confiscated from her. The crime of sex outside of marriage carries such strong consequences in Dubai (including flogging and imprisonment) that some rights groups in the country have suggested that female victims of sexual assault should not report it. The charges were eventually dropped against the British women, but a disturbing 2008 case shows how scary this law can be. An Australian woman spent 8 months in jail after a brutal rape left her with broken bones. Seriously f—ked up.
14. Flesh-Exposing Outfits Are A No-No
Thankfully, Dubai does not expect its foreign female residents to dress exactly as their native women do, i.e. in full burka veils and hijab head scarves, but western women may find that they need to tone down their normal dress sense while living in Dubai…like a lot. If you normally do errands in a camisole and shorts, expect to get stared at by the locals – especially men. Basically, anything that is too low-cut or exposes too much skin is not very acceptable for daytime wear.
Unlike stricter countries like Saudi Arabia, women who choose to dress more freely in Dubai will not face any punishment for wearing revealing clothing, but they are likely to stick out like a sore thumb and this can make things very uncomfortable, to say the least. In some disgusting cases, local Dubai men have used a woman’s revealing dress sense to blackmail them into sleeping with them, taking their picture and threatening to hand this to the police. Wow.
13. Giving Birth Outside Of Wedlock Can Lead To Deportation
There is certainly no shortage of places around the world where having a child outside of marriage is frowned upon and considered immoral – especially in religious circles – but in Dubai, an unwed mother can find herself facing possible deportation. In the UAE as a whole, childbirth outside of wedlock is a serious crime and it can sadly leave the mother with very little rights or access to her child, depending on the circumstances.
In some instances, women in Dubai can’t even obtain a birth certificate unless she has a marriage certificate to make sure authorities can “compare” the dates. If this is the case, some migrant women may not be allowed to have their child travel with them if and when they return to their country of origin. Starting a family without getting married is becoming the norm in western society, but Dubai, unfortunately, remains hugely strict on this issue.
12. Public Displays Of Affection Can Get You Jailed
Since Dubai and other countries in the UAE take a strong view on the way women express themselves in terms of clothing and such, it shouldn’t be too surprising to know that they flip out over the way women might express themselves while dating and doing all the normal things women in love might do. This includes public displays of affection with your partner. Many of the things western women take for granted while on the dating scene or going out with our loved one for the evening can land you in serious hot water over there.
Kissing, cuddling, and even holding hands is strictly banned in public and a number of startling cases have shown just how wacky the punishment for harmless PDAs can be. In one case in 2007, an unmarried Indian couple were sentenced to a year behind bars for kissing and cuddling in the back of a taxi. The driver spotted them in his mirror and drove them straight to the police station. In another instance, a London woman was sentenced to a month in jail for “kissing and stroking” the back of a male friend. Nuts.
11. You Can’t Work Without Your Husband’s Permission
A notion western women said goodbye to long ago is still being held up in parts of Dubai. The horribly sexist image of a wife in the 1950s who was seen as nothing more than a homemaker and a cook may turn our stomachs now, but back then, a woman still had a right to work without needing their hubby’s permission first. Unfortunately – even in 2017 – it is Dubai law that a married woman cannot pursue work without the express permission of her husband.
In the UAE, any woman who takes on work without the consent of her husband is seen as “disobedient” by the law. For western women emigrating to Dubai with their husband, they may already be in an equal and mutually respectful relationship – making this law no problem. Still, it must be depressing to know that a neighboring Dubai man will be hiding behind this old-fashioned law to repress and take advantage of a woman.
10. Domestic Abuse Claims Are Not Always Taken Seriously
Unfortunately, just as sexual assault cases often bring more trouble to the victim than the guilty party, the same can also be true of Dubai women who make domestic abuse claims. In most parts of western society, domestic abuse is not tolerated; charities and shelters are continually set up around the US and other countries to offer women protection. We take it very seriously. Sadly, thanks to the pathetically tepid laws concerning domestic abuse in Dubai, women are mostly left to suffer in silence.
The UAE Federal Supreme Court ruled in a 2010 case that a husband had a right to chastise his wife or children as a form of disciplinary punishment, as long as the beatings left “no physical marks.” The emotional scars, though, no mention of that? The Human Rights Watch investigated cases involving UK national and western couples living in Dubai who were discouraged from reporting incidents of domestic violence by none other than the police! Their initial complaints were ignored for the most part and they were denied their right to a fair hearing. Ridiculous.
9. Only Move To Dubai If You Are Happily Married
The divorce rate in the US currently stands at 53% and a massive 69% of divorces overall are initiated by women, according to a recent sociology study at Stanford University. Looking at these alarming numbers, it would suggest that, unless you’re in the incredibly happy minority of married couples, married women with even the tiniest niggling doubt about their partner should probably avoid Dubai like the plague.
This is because, if a woman wishes to divorce her partner, it is not as simple as filing for one and letting the courts do the rest. A woman wishing to separate from her husband in Dubai is only granted a divorce in specific circumstances and even then, she may face a lengthy battle to achieve one. Basically, UAE law states that a woman may seek a divorce if there is proof of violence or abandonment on the part of her husband. Dubai women can also choose to separate using the “Khula” method which releases her from the bonds of marriage but also forfeits her half of the settlement money.
8. Women Are Not Adequately Protected By The Legal System
As we’ve already established in this article, the courts in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates as a whole do not give women a fair shake and western women who come to live and work in Dubai are no exceptions. While white women in Dubai are not as heavily censored as resident women in the country in terms of their dress and lifestyle, the rights they receive while living there are incredibly limited, something the glamorous Gulf would not have you believe from the way it is promoted around the world.
If a woman is victimized in any way or wishes to apply for a court appeal, the UAE legal system makes it very difficult for women to receive the kind of justice they might expect in their home country. Women are, after all, viewed as second class citizens in Dubai and the complicated laws often mean that a woman can unwittingly find herself accused of a crime while reporting one against her. Because of this, some groups are actively discouraging women from speaking out about injustices they face.
7. Taking Pictures Of Local Women Is Strictly Prohibited
This law goes for male and female travelers to Dubai, but it’s probably important to know that if you’re a budding photographer wishing to record how your gender dresses on the other side of the world, don’t expect to keep the picture (or possibly even your camera for that matter). In the age of vlogging and sharing your travel snaps on Instagram, we’re accustomed to recording anything in front of us – and we’re usually allowed to, but don’t try this in Dubai or you could be arrested or be landed with a hefty fine.
Taking photographs of local women in Dubai is especially dangerous – whether you have the woman’s permission or not – as this could land that person in trouble with her family or the authorities if she isn’t found to be wearing the correct dress i.e. a burka or hijab. So if photography is a hobby of yours, you may find it difficult to keep up in Dubai, unless you have a clear authority to do so.
6. Topless Sunbathing Is Not Permitted Anywhere In the Country
For girls who like to get an all over tan while on holiday, there are plenty of nude and topless beaches to choose from around the world and this is pretty much the norm. In Dubai, however, the law states that topless sunbathing and public nudity of any kind is strictly forbidden. This controversial topic for Dubai was brought to the world’s attention a few years back when a young British woman was spotted on a public beach in Dubai’s coastal region of Jumeirah without her bikini top on.
The young visitor was thankfully not punished, claiming she couldn’t find her top and did her best to “cover up” while walking past, but the incident sparked outrage among Dubai residents who called for dress code regulations to be more clearly signposted on beaches. As of 2005, topless sunbathing – and indeed any form of nudity – is now considered an act of “public indecency” under UAE law and anyone found to be violating these laws can face no less than six months in prison.
5. Cohabiting Couples Can Face Up To 3 Years In Prison
Marriage is becoming less and less relevant in western society, so the tradition of marrying before you live together is slowly becoming a thing of the past and more couples than ever before are simply cohabiting instead. Seems innocent enough, right? Not in the Arab world. Samia Al Heraki – a legal consultant from the Dubai law firm Bin Haider Advocates – has stated that an “illegitimate relation between two people who are cohabiting is considered a crime of voluntary debasement.”
In other words, living as an unmarried couple is effectively signing your own deportation slip. Ouch. If you are found to be living with your partner and you aren’t married, you can both face up to three years in jail, followed by deportation, or in some cases, you can be immediately deported. Arab countries are notoriously conservative when it comes to all things marriage related, but it still seems strange that a place known for its ultra modern architecture and wild nightlife could still be stuck in the past this way.
4. Women Cannot Marry Without The Consent Of A Male Guardian
As the women of Dubai and the UAE are pretty much second class citizens, they can’t always be trusted to take action independently and this usually means they need the consent of a man to do anything. The idea of “male guardianship” is so strongly incorporated into UAE law that women in Dubai cannot make the decision herself to marry – she must first have the consent of a male guardian in her life, whether this is a father or brother – to allow her to enter into a marriage (whether she is above the age of 18 or not).
This takes the whole idea of quaintly “asking” the girl’s father for her hand in marriage a little too far. In contrast to the strict limitations put on women when it comes to marriage, men in the UAE can marry up to four women without needing anyone’s permission (probably not even the women he intends to marry it seems!).
3. Abortion Carries A One-Year Prison Sentence
Abortion is undoubtedly still a sensitive issue in the western world, with many white women facing discrimination from religious groups and the like for choosing to go through with an abortion. But for women in Dubai, seeing an unwanted pregnancy through to the end can seem like the better option when you realize the severely harsh criminal charges they may have to face.
If the act of deciding to go through with an abortion was not traumatizing and emotionally draining enough, some women find themselves having to contend with the following cruel laws. In the UAE, abortion in the case of rape is strictly forbidden and any women found to have carried out an abortion may face up to a year in prison or a fine equivalent to nearly $3,000. The only exception to the abortion law in Dubai is if the woman’s life could be in danger during childbirth. Horrific.
2. Women Who Miscarry Are Suspected Of Having An Abortion
If you thought that the previous entry had already shown Dubai law at its most cruel when it comes to women’s rights, then brace yourself – because this is pretty unbelievable. Not only do women face punishment and scorn where abortion is concerned, they can also be punished for involuntarily losing their baby. That’s right. If a woman in Dubai has suffered a miscarriage and seeks out hospital treatment, there’s chance she may be accused of trying to attempt an abortion.
Hospital staff and authorities in Dubai may be even more suspicious of a miscarriage victim if they are presumed to have become pregnant outside of wedlock. This shows a shocking lack of understanding and cruelty where women are concerned. Dubai may present itself as a flashy and ultra modern place to live, but this disturbing truth alone is enough to put women off from ever visiting the country (this woman anyway).
1. Child Custody Laws Are A Nightmare
The issue of child custody after divorce is never easy, but laws in the United Arab Emirates make it that much harder to settle – especially if you’re a woman living in Dubai. Because women already face discrimination in many areas of the UAE legal system, it can make it harder for them to receive a fair trial in the case of child custody. In the case of Afsana Lachaux – an expat from London who moved to Dubai with her French husband in 2010 – she claimed her husband had attacked her and stalked her, but her claims of abuse were not taken seriously in court.
Afsana was fearful for her and her son Louis’ life, so she kidnapped him before she was due to appear in court for divorce proceedings. Although this wouldn’t play well in any mother’s favor during a custody battle, the claims of domestic violence would be taken seriously in western society. Afsana has since been granted limited contact with Louis after a 7-year-long court battle, in which she feared she may not see her son until he was 18.
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