Gender, the Courts and the Law:Challenging the Private Space of the Home in the Public Space of the Court

By Mary Ann Fay
Submitted to Session Individual Submission, 2015 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
My paper analyzes a 2010 legal case involving an Emirati woman who took her husband to court for physically abusing her and her adult daughter. According to The National newspaper, the husband inflicted injuries on his 23-year-old daughter and wife that required medical treatment. The wife accused her husband of physical abuse and took her case to the Sharjah Court of the First Instance, which found the husband guilty and fined him500 dirhams. The husband appealed the case to the Sharjah Court of Appeals, which upheld the lower court ruling. The husband then appealed to the Federal Supreme Court, which upheld the ruling of the Sharjah Appeals Court.
Citing a verse from the Quran: (IV:34). Chief Justice Falah al-Hajeri of the Federal Supreme Court, upheld the conviction of the husband in the lower courts while acknowledging the right of a husband to strike his wife – but not his adult daughter – “provided he does not leave physical marks.” The ruling ignited a nationwide debate in the press on whether violence against a wife by her husband is a crime.
The context for this case is the changing nature of the economic, social and legal structures in the UAE since it gained its independence from Great Britain in 1971 and the transformation of gender roles that has ensued. In the legal sphere, this has resulted in the writing of a constitution that endowed women with citizenship and the creation of a national legal system.
My paper uses this court case to illuminate how changing gender roles have given women not only legal rights but increased access to the public realm. The paper argues that it is significant that the unnamed woman in this case chose to act as a citizen and seek justice and protection for herself and her daughter in the public realm of the court rather than defer to the patriarchal power of the husband in the private realm of the family This case is part of a larger study of the legal system in the UAE with a particular interest in women’s use of the courts and the role that shari`a plays in legal rulings by judges. This paper is based on research and interviews conducted in Dubai from summer of 2010 to winter 2011.