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Women rights and the double standards of the UAE

The Human Rights Council discussed during its 26th session in Geneva the issue of women rights and the right to education as well as other relevant topics. The representative of the United Arab Emirates delivered a “charming” and carefully-worded speech, calling for other countries to uphold women’s rights and gender equality, and to exert efforts for the sake of elevating the status of women and ensuring their right to education. The speech would have been welcomed only if it had been delivered by a country whose respect for women is conveyed by actions, not just words.

Many countries enshrine women rights in their laws but do not uphold them in practice. This is a matter of values, ethics and human rights. It is no secret that the UAE society is a conservative one. Any violation of a woman’s dignity or her rights would constitute a violation of traditions.

Nevertheless, the UAE is a major violator of women rights. The most obvious example is perhaps that of Aisha Al-Jabry, daughter of political prisoner Hussein Al-Jabri. In April this year, the UAE’s ministry of higher education banned Aisha from registering for a test required for her university admission. When her brother protested against this move, the ministry informed him that there is a decision from outside the ministry to remove Aisha’s file despite her fulfilment of all requirements. He filed a complaint with the ministry on April 29, elaborating that banning his sister from university education is a grievance against her, and that she did not commit any crime that would justify punishing her by denying her the right to education. The ministry turned down the complaint without providing any reasons, thus dashing her hope that she would able to apply again.

The UAE’s bragging about its women rights record is no more than a fake window dressing. Denying Aisha Al-Jabri the right to education is a flagrant violation of one of the most basic women rights in a country that claims to be “advanced” and a supporter of women rights. Why then would Aisha be stripped of that right? Isn’t she a young woman willing to enjoy a right guaranteed by the state and international conventions? Where are these vows? Where are women rights? The answer is clear. Rights are granted only to those who approve the government’s policies, be it a man or a woman. Hence the double-standards of the UAE government in dealing with its opponents, including men and women. All are equal before repression. All are equal before the “exclusion machine”, including those who have no political activity. Therefore, human rights in general, and women rights in particular have turned into theories used to adorn speeches at international venues.

In addition to bragging, the UAE funds the UN Women organisation. I am not sure whether Lana Zaki Nusseibeh, the UAE’s delegate at the UN, is aware that the country she represents violates women’s rights, and bans her from her right to travel and to reunite with her family. Few months ago, and before Aisha’s case, the UAE’s security apparatus stopped the wife of London-based judge Mohamed Saqr al-Zuabi, also called Aisha, on the border crossing between the UAE and Amman on January 10 this year. Aisha Al-Zaabi was carrying her baby (less than two years old). Her passport and the passport of her child have been confiscated, and she was deported to an undisclosed location. She was disappeared until her release on January 14. It was then known that she had been banned from travelling without any legal basis. Her crime was her desire to see her husband, who is among the 94 reformists facing charges in the UAE.

The two Aishas have nothing to do with politics. Their crime is being family members of prisoners of conscience. Thus we are witnessing collective punishment that targets female relatives of detainees. Few weeks ago, prison authorities banned the 75-year-old mother of Dr Mohamed Al-Rukn from visiting him. When she asked about the reason of the ban, she was threatened to face prosecution. Does this old lady deserve such treatment? Where are human rights in all this? And who should protect this woman from the injustice of tyrants and their aides?

These are probably the simplest examples from dozens of other cases in which the rights of women, who happen to be relatives of political detainees in the UAE, are violated, either through travel bans, arrests, searches, or constant surveillance. These practices, however, are criminalised in international laws, as well as the traditions of Emirati people.

Has women’s dignity become a mere commodity marketed by some countries in the UN and international forums to present a fake picture of a bitter reality?

Translated from Arabi21, 28 June 2014

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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