While there is still some way to go when it comes to closing the gender gap around the world, the past few years have been momentous for women in the region. To mark Women’s Equality Day (August 26), which commemorates women in the US gaining the right to vote, we look at four Arab countries that are making serious strides in supporting total gender equality. From the extension of paid maternity leave in the UAE to anti-harassment laws in Tunisia, read on for how some regional nations are championing women’s rights.
In April, HH Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced a new draft law passed by the Cabinet to support females in the workforce. The new law was issued to ensure that men and women received equal pay for equal work, in an effort to close the gender gap. His Highness made the announcement on Twitter, writing: “With the strength and rule of the law, we do not want any exceptions in providing equal opportunities for both sexes. Our constitution ensures equal rights among the sexes and we seek to enforce and guarantee this right through the new law.” The draft law was in accordance with the launch of the Gender Balance Guide: Actions for UAE Organizations, a handbook created to improve gender balance in the workplace.
Additionally, a new policy unveiled last year ensured that public sector employees will receive a three-month paid maternity leave as opposed to the mandatory 45 days paid maternity leave for private firm employees prescribed under the UAE Labour Law. The decision to extend paid maternity leave provisions is part of a wider effort to support women in the workplaces. It is also permitted to add annual leave and unpaid leave to the maternity leave, with the condition that it does not exceed 120 days.
Tunisia has long been regarded as a pioneer in the Arab world for women’s rights. Just last week, the North African country’s president, Beji Caid Essebsi, proposed giving women equal inheritance rights, toppling the current system, which is based on Islamic law that typically allows men to inherit double what a woman would receive. “I propose equality inheritance to become law,” the president said in a speech. Parliament now needs to decide on a bill.
Last year, Tunisia’s parliament passed a bill that outlawed multiple violations against women, including sexual harassment and discrimination. The new law imposes increased penalties for sexual harassment in public spaces, and requires citizens to notify the police if they witness violence against women. It also states that children should be educated in schools about human rights.
Meanwhile, since last September, Muslim Tunisian women have been free to marry non-Muslim men, ending a decades-old ban. The ban on interfaith marriages was established in 1973 and required non-Muslim men to convert to Islam in order to get legally married to a Muslim woman. The law is part of a wider effort to establish total equality between men and women in the North African country.
Lebanon is the most recent Arab state to abolish a law that allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims, an outdated practice that mainly occurred in rural areas of the Levant country. Lawmakers voted to repeal article 522 of Lebanon’s penal code, which exempts perpetrators of violence against women from prosecution if they marry their victims. Technically, rape is punishable by up to seven years in prison in Lebanon, however Article 522, which has been around since the 1940s, provided a loophole for perpetrators to avoid serious punishment. Jordan and Tunisia abolished similar laws recently.
In 2004, Morocco’s Family Code removed the legal obligation for having a male guardian and upped the minimum age limit for marriage to 18. It also made it easier for women to file for divorce and obtain custody of their children. Meanwhile, the 2007 Nationality Code allows children to take the nationality of their mother at birth. The North African country also reformed its electoral code in an effort to increase female representation in the political sphere. When it comes to the protection of women against violence, Morocco was among the first Middle East and North African countries to repeal the law that allowed abusers to avoid punishment and prosecution by marrying their victims. Additionally, following in the footsteps of Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, Morocco has recently introduced provisions criminalizing sexual harassment.