A bombing raid by a female air force pilot from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) made international headlines last month. But despite the headlines and internet memes, the UAE is not at the forefront of women’s rights —not even compared to its Arab neighbours.
The Emirati regime spends millions of dollars on its image in the United States. With the government keen to highlight its support for the US campaign against ISIS, it packaged the story about Major Mariam Al Mansouri story perfectly for American media.
CNN was brought in to interview Al Mansouri on the ground, and the UAE’s government media agency was there to take and distribute those iconic waving and thumbs-up photos to news outlets. But what you won’t find mentioned in many of the gushing media stories is any reference to the true state of women’s rights in the UAE.
While glamorized in American films and music videos, is a country where husbands are permitted to beat their wives. There is no legal recourse for marital rape, and the UAE has imprisoned victims who report rape to authorities — including Western tourists.
Last year, Nicholas McGeehan, a Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Daily Beast the UAE is “incredibly focused on maintaining a very progressive image despite the reality that it’s not.”
Horror stories from Western tourists have put a dent in that image. An Australian woman who reported a gang rape to police says she spent 8 months in prison, and British and Norwegian citizens have reportedly received similar treatment.
Prosecutors charge these women for engaging in extra-marital sex, claiming they have no proof the sexual violence they report was non-consensual. According to Human Rights Watch, even Western governments sometimes turn a blind eye to this.
“The UAE is very good at exerting its strategic and economic importance to ensure that its numerous allies in the West don’t raise objections, even when their citizens are mistreated,” McGeehan said.
The country’s treatment of migrant workers, particularly female domestic servants, has been compared to modern-day slavery. Many of these workers suffer physical violence, sexual abuse, passport confiscation, restrictions on mobility and communications, and even death while trying to escape, according to Human Rights Watch.
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