United Arab Emirates

The UAE is not ranked in the 2012 SIGI due to missing data for one or more SIGI variables. However, the country note below sets out information and data relating to variables where this is available information.

The country was ranked 92 out of 102 in the 2009 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The UAE is ranked in 30th place in the 2011 Human Development Index (HDI) (out of 187 countries), with a value of 0.846. The Gender Inequality Index score is 0.234 placing the country at 38 out of 146 countries. The UAE is ranked 103rd (out of 135 countries) in the 2011 Global Gender Gap Index, with a value of 0.6454.

Discriminatory Family Code: 

Sharia law governs the Personal Status Law, adopted in 2005.[14] That said, Sharia rules on marriage apply only to marriages between Muslims, or between a Muslim man and a Jewish or Christian woman.[15] The codification of personal status law in the UAE was seen as an advancement for Emirati women’s rights, as it ensures greater personal freedom in regard to marriage, and also means that decisions relating to personal status are no longer determined by the interpretation of Sharia law by individual judges.[16] However, it is not clear whether this is standardised across the seven states. That said, as Kildar (writing in a report published by Freedom House in 2010) points out, the Personal Status Law also serves to codify existing inequalities within marriage.[17]

It is unclear what the minimum age for marriage is in the UAE. Up-to-date figures are not available, but according to data held by the UN for 1995, in that year 8.2% of girls aged 15-19 were married, divorced or widowed.[18] This was a significant decrease the equivalent figure twenty years earlier, which stood at 56.5%.[19] According to Rashad et al, there is a clear correlation between levels of education and early marriage: their research found that the average age of marriage for women with secondary or higher education was 27, compared to 18 for women with no education.[20]  To marry for the first time, women must have permission from their male guardian, and the marriage contract is concluded between the guardian and the husband.[21] That said, the contract is not legally binding until the wife has signed it.[22] Muslim men can freely choose their spouse, but Muslim women are prohibited from marrying non-Muslim men unless they convert.[23] Sex outside of marriage is illegal; where such cases are found out, punishments meted out to women are harsher than those meted out to men, as are punishments meted out to non-UAE citizens.[24] Kirdar reports of one case involving a female domestic worker who was sentenced to 150 lashes for becoming pregnant outside of marriage.[25]

Polygamy is legal and men may marry up to four wives, providing they obtain permission   from their existing wife/wives, and are able to financially support all wives.[26]  According to a 2005 study published by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and quoted by the Khaleej Times, bigamy or polygamy are cited as the main cause in 31.9 per cent of divorces.[27]

The 2005 Personal Status Law includes a provision at article 56 stating that a husband has the right to obedience from his wife ‘in accordance with custom’.[28]  Sharia law views fathers as the natural guardians of children, while mothers are merely the physical – not legal – custodians.[29]  In the event of divorce, under the Personal Status Law mothers are granted physical custody of daughters until they reach the age of 13 and of sons until they reach the age of ten, at which point the family court reassesses the custody arrangements.[30]  Women who choose to remarry do so at the cost of forfeiting their custody rights.[31]  Men have the right to unilaterally divorce (repudiate) their wives.[32]  Women who wish to divorce have two options: they can petition for a divorce on the basis of one of a very narrow range of reasons, or request a ‘khula’ divorce and forfeit their dowry.[33] Women cannot confer UAE citizenship to children borne to foreign fathers. [34] Women who are not UAE citizens who give birth outside of marriage face deportation or imprisonment.[35]

Sharia law provides for detailed and complex calculations of inheritance shares.[36]  Women may inherit from their fathers, mothers, husbands or children and, under certain conditions, from other family members.[37]  However, their share is generally smaller than that to which men are entitled.[38]  A daughter, for example, inherits half as much as a son. [39]  It is unclear as to whether women are able to exercise their inheritance rights in practice.

 [14] Kirdar (2010), p.518 [15] Kirdar (2010), p.518 [16] Kirdar (2010), pp.522, 523[17] Kirdar (2010), p.522 [18] United Nations Population Division / DESA (2008) [19] United Nations Population Division / DESA (2008); Rashad et al (2005), p.2 [20] Rashad et al (2005), p.4 [21] Kirdar (2010), p.524 [22] Kirdar (2010), p.524 [23] Kirdar (2010), p.524 [24] See Kirdar (2010), p.521 for a specific example. [25] Kirdar (2010), p.525 [26] ECOSOC (2003), p.159; Kirdar (2010), p.524 [27] Al Baik (2005) [28] Kirdar (2010), pp.523-524 [29] Uhlman (2004) [30] Kirdar (2010), p.524 [31] Kirdar (2010), p.525 [32] Kirdar (2010), p.524 [33] Kirdar (2010), p.524 [34] Kirdar (2010), p.519 [35] ECOSOC (2003), p.160 [36] UN-HABITAT (2005), p.11 [37] UN-HABITAT (2005), p.11[38] UN-HABITAT (2005), p.11 [39] UN-HABITAT (2005), p.11

Restricted Physical Integrity: 

There appears to be no legislation in place to protect women from domestic violence in the UAE. Rather, the existing Penal Code gives male guardians the right to discipline women and children at their discretion, including the use of physical violence.[40] There are no reliable figures as to the numbers of women affected by domestic violence, although according to the 2007 US Department of State human rights report, a 2005 UAE university study found that 66% of all women permanently residing in the country have experienced domestic abuse.[41] Police are usually reluctant to intervene, or may try and reconcile the couple and encourage the woman to return home.[42] In addition, in general, women are discouraged from seeking legal protection whatever the issue, because to do so involves ‘recourse to the male-dominated public sphere’, as Kirdar puts it.[43]  As of 2010, there were two shelters for victims of domestic violence operating in Dubai.[44]

Rape is a criminal offence, punishable by the death penalty.[45] However, the law does not recognise the concept of spousal rape. [46] Women rarely report their abusers because of shame and fear of social stigma, and also because they are liable to be prosecuted for engaging in illicit sex or, in the case of expatriate women, fear that the complaint could jeopardise their residency status.[47] Kirdar notes two cases of expatriate women who were imprisoned after reporting to the police that they had been gang raped.[48]  Sexual harassment is illegal, and pictures of men caught harassing women in public are printed in local newspapers, in order to bring shame on the perpetrator’s family.[49] But harassment is reported to be widespread.[50]

According to Kirdar, female genital mutilation (FGM) is not widely practised in the UAE.[51] FGM is not illegal in the UAE, but the Ministry of Health prohibits the practice in state hospitals and clinics.[52]  Nevertheless, FGM continues to be carried out in private clinics and in rural areas in some emirates.[53]  It is believed to be practised primarily by Somali, Omani and Sudanese expatriates living in UAE,[54] although no information is available as to prevalence rates.

Despite a 2006 law criminalising trafficking in persons, trafficking remains a serious problem in the UAE, which is a destination country for women and men trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation (women) and forced labour in the construction industry (men).[55] In addition, many women enter the country each year legally to work as domestic workers, but find themselves working in slave-live conditions.[56] It is reported that migrant domestic workers – the majority of whom are women – are vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their employers.[57] Many also have their passports confiscated, in violation of the law.[58] In addition to the 2006 law, other measures have been introduced by the government to address the issue of trafficking, such as requiring employers to pay expatriate workers using an electronic system monitored by the government.[59] In addition, a shelter has been opened by the Abu Dhabi Red Crescent society.[60] Measures are undermined however by the fact that victims of trafficking who seek help from the police face prosecution under anti-prostitution legislation.[61] 

Women are able to purchase contraception without a prescription or permission from their husbands, and there are no other legal restrictions on women’s access to healthcare.[62] According to UNFPA, 28% of women questioned reported using some form of contraception, including so-called ‘traditional methods’;[63] this low figure would indicate that in practice, many women may not exercise this right. Abortion is only available in cases where the pregnant woman’s life is in danger.[64] According to Kirdar, a draft law is currently under consideration that would enable legal abortion in cases where the foetus would have serious congenital defects.[65]

[40] US Department of State (2010) [41] US Department of State (2007) [42] US Department of State (2010); Kirdar (2010), p.526 [43] Kirdar (2010), p.520 [44] Kirdar (2010), p.526 [45] Kirdar (2010), p.526[46] US Department of State (2010) [47] Amnesty International (2010), p.339; Kirdar (2010), p.526 [48] Kirdar (2010), p.526 [49] Kirdar (2010), p.526 [50] ECOSOC (2003), p.160; Kirdar (2010), p.526 [51] Kirdar (2010), p.537 [52] US Department of State (2010) [53] US Department of State (2010) [54] US Department of State (2010) [55] Freedom House (2010); Kirdar (2010), p.525 [56] Freedom House (2010) [57] ECOSOC (2003), p.160 [58] Freedom House (2010) [59] Kirdar (2010), p.525 [60] Kirdar (2010), p.525 [61] Kirdar (2010), p.525 [62] Kirdar (2010), p.536 [63] UNFPA (2010), p.98. No data source provided. [64] Kirdar (2010), p.536 [65] Kirdar (2010), p.537 

Son Bias: 

Infant mortality rates appear to be higher for girls than for boys.[66]  Gender-disaggregated data for immunisation rates are not available, but overall, these are high, according to UNICEF (between 92% and 98%).[67]  According to a 2007 UNICEF report, gross enrolment rates at primary level are higher for boys (85%) than for girls (82%), but at secondary level, the reverse is true (boys: 65%; girls: 68%).[68]  Furthermore, at tertiary level, women outnumber men on most courses.[69] 

The information above would indicate that son preference may be prevalent in regard to early childhood care and access to primary education in the UAE, but not in regard to access to secondary and tertiary education.

The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 2.19.[70] Analysis of sex ratio data across age groups shows elevated sex ratios in younger age groups, providing evidence that the UAE is a country of concern in relation to missing women. The higher adult sex ratio can be attributed to migration.

[66] Amnesty International (2010), p.338; UNFPA (2010), p.104. No data source provided.[67] UNICEF (2007), p.113 [68] UNICEF (2007), p.121[69] Kirdar (2010), p.529 [70] Central Intelligence Agency (2012)

Restricted Resources and Entitlements: 

Women in the UAE are considered adults at the age of 18, at which point they are legally able to have independent access to land and access to property other than land.[71]  The law also provides that when women marry, previously owned assets – as well as any income resulting from those assets – remain separate property of the spouses.[72]  Culturally, it may not be considered appropriate for women to own property, or to live on their own; in the words of Kirdar, ‘there is a powerful social stigma associated with women living away from their families’.[73] According to a 2002 report published by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), at that time, women owned just 4.9% of land in the UAE.[74]

Women reportedly have the legal right to access to bank loans and credit, although the extent to which they are able to exercise this right in practice remains unclear.[75]  In addition, within some individual states, some barriers exist that prevent women from engaging in business ventures without the permission of their husband or male guardian.[76]

[71] Kirdar (2010), p.528 [72] Kirdar (2010), p.528 [73] ECOSOC (2003), p.161; Kirdar (2010), p.537 [74] Cotula (2002[2007]), p.54 [75] International Finance Corporation and World Bank (2011) [76] Kirdar (2010), p.529 

Restricted Civil Liberties: 

Despite the fact that the law provides for the freedom of movement of all persons, men can restrict their wives, minor children and adult unmarried daughters from leaving the country, either by withholding their passports or by contacting the immigration authorities.[77]  It is also considered socially unacceptable for women to live on their own.[78] Despite a 2003 law that forbids the practice, many employers withhold the passports of their foreign workers as a condition of employment.[79]  This leaves female domestic workers in a particularly vulnerable position.[80]

Freedom of expression, assembly and association are all restricted in the UAE.[81] Women are underrepresented in the media, and representations of women and discussions of gender issues do not tend to challenge traditional gender roles.[82] It is very difficult for women’s rights organisations to form and operate effectively, as all must operate under the auspices of the state-controlled UAE Women’s Federation.[83] The Women’s Federation does not address ‘sensitive’ issues such as domestic violence or trafficking, and does little to challenge traditional gender roles and relations.[84] 

Both men and women have very limited political rights in the UAE. Only those who are appointed to the electoral colleges for each state are entitled to vote to elect 20 members of the 40-member Federal National Council (the remainder are appointed); within the electoral colleges, men outnumber women.[85] As of early 2011, there were nine women in Federal National Council, one of whom was elected (rather than appointed).[86] The Council acts only an advisory capacity however, and has no legislative power.[87] As of 2008, there were four women ministers, and the same year saw the appointment of the UAE’s first female judge.[88] Overall though, women remain underrepresented in government and in other decision-making roles.[89] As mentioned above, it is very difficult for NGOs and other civil society organisations to operate in the UAE, excluding this as an alternative avenue for women seeking professional leadership positions.

Pregnant women in the UAE are entitled to 45 days’ paid maternity leave.[90] Under the labour law, discrimination on the basis of gender is proscribed.[91]  However, women are prevented from working in occupations that could be hazardous to their physical or moral health, and from working at night in most cases.[92] Some government administrations will not employ married women without the written consent of their husbands.[93] Overall, while there has been a considerable increase in the number of women in the labour force (rising from 25% of the labour force in 1990 to 40% in 2007, according to Kirdar) women’s participation in the labour force remains restricted, with reluctance on the part of husbands and male relatives cited as a major obstacle to women’s employment, and to their promotion beyond junior-level positions.[94]

[77] ECOSOC (2003), p.161; Kirdar (2010), p.523 [78] Kirdar (2010), p.537 [79] Kirdar (2010), p.523 [80] Kirdar (2010), p.523 [81] Freedom House (2010); Kirdar (2010), p.535 [82] Kirdar (2010), p.538 [83] Kirdar (2010), p.521 [84] Kirdar (2010), p.522 [85] Kirdar (2010), pp.533, 534 [86] Inter-Parliamentary Union (n.d.); Kirdar (2010), p.533 [87] Freedom House (2010) [88] Kirdar (2010), p.534 [89] Freedom House (2010); Kirdar (2010), pp.527, 534 [90] ILO (2009) [91] ECOSOC (2003), p.160. According to Kirdar (2010, pp.531-532), as of 2010, a new labour law was under consideration, which would increase the level of protection against discrimination on the basis of gender, and increase pregnant women’s maternity leave entitlement. [92] Kirdar (2010), p.530 [93] ECOSOC (2003), p.161 [94] Kirdar (2010), pp.527, 531; ECOSOC (2003), p.161


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a confederation of seven states, each of which is a emirate, headed by an emir.[1] There is a large expatriate population, primarily from South Asia: as of 2009, only 20% of the total population were officially UAE citizens and, thus, fully protected or supported by the Federation’s laws.[2] The UAE is classed by the World Bank as a high income economy.[3] The economy is based primarily on oil revenue and financial services, and as a result, suffered particularly badly in the 2008-2009 financial crisis.[4] 

A woman’s situation, and her ability to exercise her rights, depends to a large degree on her legal status in the UAE. [5]  Large portions of the female population comprise foreign professional women residing temporarily on employment contracts, foreign women employed in the informal sector or as domestic workers (who are particularly vulnerable), or the wives of temporary foreign workers.[6]  While recent years and the influx of foreigners have brought about enormous changes in the UAE, including in relation to women’s rights and status, Emirati women continue to face legal as well as social and familial restrictions on their activities, particularly in regard to marriage and employment.[7]

Given that the UAE is a confederation, within which each state retains considerable autonomy,[8] in some cases, different laws and standards apply in relation to women’s rights or status within the different emirates. Where relevant, this is mentioned below.

The Constitution of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) upholds the principle of equal treatment of all citizens, but does not specifically address gender-based discrimination and contains references which primarily identify women as wives and mothers.[9]  As such, the Constitution, as well as other laws, tend to reinforce traditional gender roles, rather than promoting true equality between women and men in the UAE.[10] The UAE is governed by Sharia and civil law, the former determining all personal status and family matters, and some aspects of criminal law.[11] The UAE ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2004 but has reserved the right to implement Articles 2(6) (inheritance), 9 (discrimination in granting nationality to children), 15(2) (testimony and right to conclude contracts), 16 (discrimination in marriage and family relations), and 29(1) (jurisdiction) in a manner compatible with Shari‘a.[12] It has not yet ratified the Optional Protocol.[13]

[1] CIA (2010); Freedom House (2010) [2] Amnesty International (2010), p.339; Kirdar (2010), p.517; CIA (2010). Given the financial crisis, the number of expatriates in the country is now likely to be lower, as many lost their jobs and had to leave the country (Freedom House (2010)). [3] World Bank (n.d.) [4] CIA (2010) [5] Kirdar (2010), p.518 [6] Kirdar (2010), p.518 [7] Kirdar (2010), p.518 [8] Freedom House (2010) [9] ECOSOC (2003), p.159; Kirdar (2010), p.519 [10] ECOSOC (2003), p.159; Kirdar (2010), p.519 [11] Kirdar (2010), p.518 [12] United Nations Treaty Collection (n.d.); Kirdar (2010), p.521 [13] United Nations Treaty Collection (n.d.)


Al Baik (2005) ‘Polygamy a Major Cause of Divorce: Study’, Khaleej Times, www.khaleejtimes.com (accessed 14 March 2011)

Amnesty International (2010) Amnesty International Report 2009, State of the World’s Human Rights, London: Amnesty International. http://thereport.amnesty.org/sites/default/files/AIR2010_EN.pdf (accessed 8 November 2010)

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (2010) World Factbook: United Arab Emirates, online edition, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ae.html

Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Factbook: Sex Ratio, available at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2018.html (accessed 15 March 2012)

Cotula, L. for the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) Legal Office (2002 [2007]), Gender and Law: Women’s Rights in Agriculture, FAO Legislative Study No. 76, 2002 (revised 2007), Rome. Available at ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/005/y4311e/y4311e00.pdf (accessed 3 March 2011)

Freedom House (2010) Freedom in the World Country Reports: United Arab Emirates, online edition, http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=22&year=2010&country=7942 (accessed 15 March 2011)

International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009) Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/travail/travmain.home (accessed 14 March 2011)

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), (n.d.), country profile: United Arab Emirates, http://ilga.org/ilga/en/countries/UNITED%20ARAB%20EMIRATES/Articles (accessed 14 March 2011)

International Finance Corporation and World Bank (2011) Women, Business and the Law 2012, Removing Barriers to Economic Inclusion, The World Bank, Washington DC.

Inter-Parliamentary Union (n.d.) ‘UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Majlis Watani Itihadi (Federal National Council)’, http://www.ipu.org/parline-e/reports/2333_A.htm (accessed 14 March 2011)

Kirdar, Serra (2010) ‘United Arab Emirates’ in Sanja Kelly and Julia Breslin, eds., (2010) Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, New York, NY: Freedom House; Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield

Rashad, Hoda, Magued Osman, and Farzaneh Roudi-Fahimi (2005), Marriage in the Arab World, PRB (Population Reference Bureau), Washington DC. Available at http://www.prb.org/pdf05/MarriageInArabWorld_Eng.pdf (accessed 3 March 2011)

Uhlman, K. (2004) ‘Overview of Shari’a and Prevalent Customs in Islamic Societies: Divorce and Child Custody’, Expert Law, http://www.expertlaw.com/library/family_law/islamic_custody.html (accessed 3 March 2011)

UNDP (2010) Human Development Report 2010: United Arab Emirates, online edition, http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/ARE.html (accessed 23 March 2011)

United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2011_EN_Complete.pdf (accessed 29 February 2012)

United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) (2003) ‘INTEGRATION OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF WOMEN AND THE GENDER PERSPECTIVE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, submitted in accordance with Commission on Human Rights resolution 2002/52 Addendum 1 International, regional and national developments in the area of violence against women 1994-2003’, E/CN.4/2003/75/Add.1, ECOSOC, New York

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) (2010) State of the World’s Population 2010. From conflict and crisis to renewal: generations of change, UNFPA, New York

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) (2005) ‘Islam, land & property research series’, Paper 6: Islamic inheritance laws and systems, Nairobi, Kenya. Available at www.unhabitat.org/downloads/docs/3546_3490_ILP%206.doc (accessed 10 February 2011)

UNICEF (2007) State of the World’s Children: the Double Dividend of Gender Equality, New York: UNICEF http://www.unicef.org/sowc07/docs/sowc07.pdf

United Nations Population Division / DESA (2008) World Marriage Data. Available to download at http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/WMD2008/Main.html (accessed 11 October 2010)

United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTC) (n.d): Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, countries ratified. 

-          CEDAW: http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-8&chapter=4&lang=en (accessed 14 March 2011)

-          Optional Protocol: http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-8-b&chapter=4&lang=en (accessed 14 March 2011)

US Department of State (2007), ‘Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: United Arab Emirates’, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2007/100608.htm (accessed 14 March 2011)

US Department of State (2010) ‘2009 Country Reports on Human Rights: United Arab Emirates’, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/nea/136082.htm (accessed 15 March 2011)

World Bank (n.d.) Data: United Arab Emirates, http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-arab-emirates (accessed 23 March 2011)

World Economic Forum (2010) ‘The Global Gender Gap Index 2010 rankings’, http://www.weforum.org/pdf/gendergap/rankings2010.pdf (accessed 22 November 2010)

World Economic Forum (2011) The Global Gender Gap Report 2011, available at http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GenderGap_Report_2011.pdf (accessed 2 March 2012) 

Legal Age of Marriage: 
Early Marriage: 
Parental Authority: 
Violence Against Women (laws): 
Missing Women: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Rank 2012: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Value 2012: 
Access To Land: 
Access To Property Other Than Land: 
Access To Bank Loans And Credit: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Rank 2012: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Value 2012: 
Access To Public Space: 
Political Participation: 
Political Quotas: