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Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein leaving the Royal Courts of Justice in London after the latest hearing in the High Court battle between the ruler of Dubai and his estranged wife over their children. © AP Images
Jordanian Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein's flight from her home in Dubai with her two children to London has once again thrust the United Arab Emirates and their discriminatory laws against women into the limelight. Princess Haya's husband, Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, is the ruler of Dubai.
As a legal battle between the two royals reportedly gets underway in a London court, one cannot help but think of Maktoum's adult daughters from different marriages, Sheikha Latifa and Sheikha Shamsa, who were apparently forcibly returned after attempting to flee Dubai on separate occasions. The two women remain trapped in the Emirates.
Their well-being and wishes will remain unknown until they are able to speak freely and make their own decisions - including the right to leave their country when they wish.
But spare a thought too, for all the women - Emiratis, non-nationals, and migrant domestic workers - in the UAE who often do not have the resources or connections to successfully flee a country whose laws discriminate against them.
Personal status laws in the UAE deny women the right to make independent decisions about marriage. For a woman to marry, her male guardian must sign off on her marriage contract. Once she is married, the law requires her 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 has no "lawful excuse" when she refuses to have sex with her husband, refuses to travel abroad with him, "abandons" the home, or prohibits her husband from entering.
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.
And though divorced women may have their children live with them up to a certain age, 11 for a boy and 13 for a girl, the legal guardianship of the children - such as the control of their education and finances - generally remains with the father or passes to one of his male relatives.
A woman may also not travel with her children outside the UAE without their father's consent.
And while, at least for the moment, Princess Haya's 11-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son are with her, the same cannot be said for many mothers in the UAE who have lost the fight to keep their children with them.
While there has been no suggestion of violence in Haya's case, Human Rights Watch has documented cases in the UAE in which  police failures to properly investigate allegations of domestic violence may have led to court decisions not in the best interests of the children.
One British woman lost a case to keep her 3-year-old son with her in August 2012, in a hearing in which she could not present evidence of two complaints of domestic violence she had filed in Dubai.
A second British woman lost a case to keep her 8-year-old daughter in May 2014, despite her three complaints of domestic violence against her husband. Both children were of an age at which, under UAE law, children generally live with the mother in divorce cases.
Without a strong law and effective procedures to respond to domestic violence, the UAE not only fails abused women, but their children as well.
The government has yet to enact legislation on domestic violence despite being pressed to do so nearly a decade ago by the UN committee tracking how countries fulfill their international legal obligations to protect women against discrimination. The UAE ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2004.
Discriminatory personal status laws compound women's second-class status in the UAE and can trap them in abusive relationships. UAE's allies should push the authorities to reform these laws, and allow women - including Sheikha Latifa and her sister - to  travel freely outside of the country if they wish.  


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