Hind Albolooki fled the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after receiving threats from family members for wanting to divorce an abusive husband.
"I am a mother of four children,” she said. “No mother would leave her children just like this. But I had to leave my kids. I had no other choice." Her decision to flee says much about the lack of protection available to women in the UAE.
Hind sought asylum in North Macedonia, but authorities rejected her asylum claim. She is now trapped in an immigration detention center, begging not to be deported back to the UAE and instead allowed to claim asylum elsewhere. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has barred her deportation while it processes her case. But it is unclear whether Macedonian authorities will send her back to the UAE or comply with the ECHR’s decision.
If you believe the UAE’s rhetoric on women’s rights, it might be difficult to understand why women like Hind believe that to leave an abusive husband, they have no choice but to flee the UAE. Indeed, in response to news of Hind’s ordeal, Ahmed Almulla, deputy head of mission at the UAE embassy in Rome, said: “Domestic abuse is a serious crime, and has no place whatsoever in the UAE; Emirati women are protected and fully empowered under UAE laws.”
But his words ring hollow. Laws in the UAE discriminate against women in several key ways and fail to protect them from violence. Personal status laws in the UAE deny women the right to make autonomous decisions about marriage. For a woman to marry, her male guardian must sign off on her marriage contract. Once married, she is required to “obey” her husband. A woman may be considered disobedient if she works without her husband’s consent. She can lose her right to financial support if she refuses to have sex with her husband without a lawful excuse. If a woman decides to divorce her husband, she has to apply for a court order while men have the right to unilaterally divorce their wives.
While its criminal law no longer explicitly permits a man to physically discipline his wife following an amendment in 2016, there is still no specific law or crime of domestic violence in the UAE. Marital rape is also not a crime.
If UAE authorities truly commit to ending violence and discrimination against women in law and practice, then women like Hind may not again feel like their only choice is to flee the country, leaving children and loved ones behind.
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A previous version of this dispatch incorrectly stated that under the UAE’s penal code, husbands had a legal right to beat or use other forms of punishment or coercion against their wives. However, following amendments in 2016, the UAE’s penal code no longer explicitly allows for it.