by Eden Singh | Thursday 11th March 2021
In recent years, Dubai has undergone a remarkable transformation from a desert to a global metropolis. However, there has been no such transformation in the rights that women enjoy in the city. Emirati women, like countless other women, continue the fight against sexist laws and customs. The plight of Princess Latifa Al Maktoum, the daughter of Dubai’s ruler, exemplifies this fight.
“I’m not allowed to drive, I’m not allowed to travel or leave Dubai at all,” Latifa said in a video she recorded before embarking on her heroic quest for freedom three years ago. She and her friend Tiina Jauhianen fled Dubai seeking political asylum. Deplorably, eight days later, Latifa was abducted and returned to Dubai. She is making headlines again after releasing another video recording, this time revealing that her father is imprisoning her.
While being held hostage by her family, Latifa had secret communication with the outside world, but that has stopped. There is now a deep concern for the Princess’s life. #FreeLatifa, a group campaigning for the release of Latifa and women’s rights in the UAE, has urged the UN to visit the Princess immediately. The UN has requested the UAE government to provide them with proof that Latifa is alive, but the only response received by the UN is a statement from the Dubai royal family claiming that the Princess “is being cared for at home”. Kenneth Roth, head of the human rights charity, Human Rights Watch, argues that the royal statement is a cover-up and cannot be trusted until we hear from the Princess herself.
Princess Latifa’s story is a reminder of gender inequality in the Middle East. However, as As’ad AbuKhalil, a research fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, says, “the phenomena of sexism and misogyny are global, not peculiar…to the Middle East”. Significant gender disparities exist. According to the UN, more than two-thirds of the world’s 786 million illiterate people are women. In 18 countries, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working, and in 49, there are no laws to protect women from domestic violence. To most of us, these are merely statistics. It is the reality for millions of women worldwide.
Reading about stories like that of the Princess enables those of us who had the privilege of an education, have the freedom to travel, and the liberty to express ourselves to imagine what life would be like without those fundamental human rights. It also reminds us to be thankful for the strength, determination, and courage of the women who fought for them.
Here are five small but significant steps you can take to promote gender equality both at home and internationally:
The women who came before us endured a long struggle for the rights that we enjoy today; that won’t be over until every woman in every corner of the world enjoys the same rights.