UAE needs law to protect women seeking divorce

Wives can sometimes suffer years of abuse as they await court proceedings and negotiations, before they are freed from their husbands.

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DUBAI // The experiences of women seeking divorce vary, and there are government services to protect them from violence, including hotlines and shelters in Sharjah and Dubai. But gaps in the system allow women such as Umm Danah to fall through the cracks.

"We need to have a clear law for domestic violence," said Amna Al Mutawa, a case manager for the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, the country's primary domestic violence shelter. "The husbands will know their limits, know their rights."

Umm Danah's story echoes many others, said Diana Hamade, a lawyer and columnist for The National.

"I have a client, she's been before Dubai Courts now for two years - two years of agony," Ms Hamade said. "The husband is physically, verbally, emotionally abusive … but he doesn't want a divorce."

While fighting their husbands in court, women who cannot find alternative housing may be forced to live with them. And there is limited refuge in the emirates that lack women's shelters.

"Eventually all will work out but there are small loopholes which many of us get caught in," said Sarah (not her real name), a mother in Abu Dhabi who filed for divorce from her abusive husband last year.

"There is no protection when you go to court, no female officer when you have to sit side by side with a violent man. He can get you in the car park. He can call you throughout the divorce and threaten and weaken you because until you have that final divorce certificate you are in limbo."

Divorces involving domestic violence can take six to 12 months while the couple negotiate alimony, child custody and other issues, said Jouslin Khairallah, a lawyer in Dubai.

Another lawyer, Yousuf Al Sharif, said the legal procedures "are only for showing the truth".

"UAE litigation is characterised by speed and independence in finalising cases to achieve justice," he said.

But women's experiences vary widely "from situation to situation and from husband to husband", Ms Al Mutawa said.