The Federal Supreme Court's new ruling ordering that women receive half their moakhar el sadaq, or deferred dowry, as part of a divorce settlement, is a welcome step forward in legal reform for the Emirates. In the past, the lack of a unified federal law has left the matter open for wide interpretation by judges and Sharia court arbiters. As a result, too many women have been left with little or nothing when a divorce is concluded.
Certainly, the provisions set out in marriage contracts under Sharia law can protect and enforce the rights of both spouses as they enter marriage. But in cases of neglect and abuse, such as the case reported in our pages yesterday about a woman in the Northern Emirates whose husband abandoned her, a unified law that unambiguously spells out the obligations of the alleged abuser in such a divorce is a welcome addition to the books.
The law also clarifies the obligations of a husband who is found to be guilty of mental or physical abuse, allowing little leeway for offenders who view a deferred dowry as something of a safety deposit they can coerce a woman into giving up. While this new reform may not address the physical or psychological effects of a bad marriage, it can at least give a woman legal and financial redress in what is often a heart-wrenching and laborious process. Equally as significant is what the court decision implies for all Emiratis: the nation's legal system, which is undergoing a complicated overhaul, is capable of clarifying existing laws for the betterment of its population.
The supportive message sent by this new reform indicates to women that their voices are being heard. In a society where Emirati females outnumber their male counterparts in public universities and the role of women in the labour market is becoming more important, delineating their legal rights has become an integral part of the UAE's development. As a legal ruling, it can change the life of a woman whose marriage has crumbled into an abusive partnership; as a reform originating from the Federal Supreme Court, it is a hopeful sign of things to come.