ABU DHABI // Emirati widows and divorcees have voiced their dismay at being told they cannot remarry without the consent of a male guardian – often their own sons.
The requirement is derived from Sharia, and has been federal law since 2005. Some lawyers say it is outdated and should be amended, but others say it is necessary to protect sometimes vulnerable women, and “men know better”.
Many women who find the process humiliating are travelling to other countries, where the requirements are different, to remarry.
One Emirati divorcee, 51, is considering a trip abroad after being told she required the consent of her son, 26, to remarry. “My son has agreed,” she said, “but I don’t want to bring him to court to sign the marriage contract.
“I’m a grown woman and his mother. How can I have my son come to court and marry me off?”
Another woman, a Palestinian-Canadian, 40, has found her married future with “the love of my life” is also in the hands of her son – who is 11.
“I went to court to get married and the judge told me I was not allowed to without my father,” she said.
“When I told him I had no one in the country he asked me if I had a son. I told him I did but he was only 11 years old.”
The boy will be eligible to be a guardian when he comes of age.
“My son didn’t understand what was happening and came with me the next day. The judge asked him in Arabic if he hit puberty. He didn’t understand and asked him what the word meant.”
Her son was asked to raise his arm to see if he had any underarm hair as an indication that he had reached puberty.
“He didn’t know what was happening and it was embarrassing and humiliating. This law is a disgrace. I’m a grown woman and should be allowed to make my own decisions.”
The Emirati woman was previously an administrator at the Ministry of Social Affairs.
“The system is all tied together,” she said. “When you get married the information is shared between three different government departments. I used to see my colleagues access the system and gossip about who recently remarried and who got divorced. I don’t want this to happen to me.
“Everyone I know has got married secretly abroad, in Bahrain, Syria or Egypt, where only two witnesses are required. They then bring the contract here and it is registered by the embassy and authenticated by the court.”
The Federal Personal Status Law is based on Sharia, and the Maliki school of religious law in Sunni Islam.
“The guardian, who is the father, has to accept the marriage on behalf of the bride,” said Hassan Elhais, a legal consultant from Al Rowad advocacy. “If her father is not available, or deceased, then it would be her son, followed by her brother.
“If a woman’s guardian is not available in the UAE then guardianship can be given from person abroad to a UAE resident. If a woman does not have any guardian abroad or in UAE then the judge in UAE shall be the guardian,” he said.
Mr Elhais, like most other lawyers, insists the guardian system is in the best interests of women.
Dr Shakir Al Marzouqi, from Dr Shakir Matouq Advocate and Legal Consults, said “men know better”.
“In the bigger picture it is the men who know more and a woman’s father, brother or son cares for her interest more than her own self.”
Dr Al Marzouqi said there were three parties involved in a second marriage – the woman, her children, and society. The outcome was unknown, he said, and put the whole family at risk.
But Aisha Al Tenajii, a veteran advocate and legal consultant, said: “The cases we see today are very different from the ones we used to receive in the past. The law must change to suit the modern day.
“We receive numerous cases of legal guardians preventing a woman from getting married.” Some, she said, were because the suitor was from a family considered unequal in social status, or not a UAE national. Ms Al Tenajii said that after a certain age a woman should be allowed to marry without the approval of a guardian.
“We are not asking for it to be removed. After all, there should be some regulation, but not like in the case of the 51-year-old woman. After the age of 25, for example, a woman who was previously married should not require a guardian to remarry.”
The Emirati divorcee is unimpressed by the legal arguments. “I’m a devout Sunni Muslim,” she said, “but I don’t care whether we follow the Maliki or Shafii school. I wasn’t asked what school I choose to follow – I just want to get married.”