The New Laws on Sexual Harassment in UAE

10 Mar 2022

Sexual harassment can be committed in different forms, it could be verbal or in certain situations physical. Examples of verbal harassment could include the form of unwanted attention, making sexual jokes, or making offensive jokes about someone’s appearance. Making obscene gestures, eye-teasing are also some other forms of non-verbal sexual harassment. Sending someone insulting jokes or obscene text messages, photographs, or videos, for example, is an actionable offense under UAE law. Physical contact can be in any action, such as touching another person without their consent which can include cases of molestation in a physical form of sexual harassment.

The laws governing sexual harassment in the UAE are established in Federal Law Number (3) of 1987, promulgating the penal code and its revisions (UAE Penal Code), which contain regulations governing sexual harassment. Sexual harassment shall imply extreme discomfort of others by repeating acts, words, or signals that would molest them, with the purpose of pressing them to comply with their sexual wants or the desires of others, according to the UAE penal code. (Section 359 of the Constitution) Additionally, Article 358 of the UAE governs the punishment for sexual harassment and states that a fine of AED 100,000 and no more than AED 50,000 will be imposed on anyone who openly commits a disgraceful act. If the act has been relapsed then, there will be imprisonment of up to three months and a fine not exceeding AED 100,000 to the offender. The same penalty would be imposed on someone who commits any act which is against public decency or committing an indecent act with a female or male under the age of fifteen years, the sentence will be up to one year of imprisonment. If the crime is committed with the use of force or threat, the penalty is imprisonment for a period of not less than five years and not more than twenty years and if the victim is a minor, crippled, or otherwise rendered unable to resist, the penalty will rise to 25 years of imprisonment. Furthermore, if the harassment is perpetrated by a gang, an individual using a weapon, or someone with authority over the victim, the penalty is enhanced to a minimum of two years in prison and/or a fine of AED 50,000.

After recent amendments under the UAE law, men can also be recognized as victims of sexual harassment in the UAE which aims to create a broader approach regarding this matter. The new change impacts the legal definition of sexual harassment to involve repeated harassment in the form of actions, words, or even signs intended to persuade the recipient to respond to the offenders or any other sexual wants. The new law has further increased the severity of the penalty for violators. Previously, anyone convicted of infringing on a woman’s modesty faced up to a year in prison, a fine of no more than AED 10,000 or both. Whereas, the sexual harassment charge designates this as the lowest punishment. Originally, only women were identified as potential victims of sexual harassment under Article 359 of the Penal Code’s Crime Perpetrated Against Honour chapter, but the modified law now allows men to approach legal experts to report being sexually harassed by any sex regardless of the location.

The national news in UAE covered a story regarding sexual harassment in men. Ahmad Fathy, a 34-year-old writer who is living in UAE claimed he was harassed by a group of girls six years ago in a nightclub in Dubai. The Egyptian writer told the interviewer that there was a group of drunk women inappropriately touching him to seduce him which made him very uncomfortable and embarrassed. The above-mentioned story highlights that the new law now would protect men and their rights in such situations.

New Amendments

According to Article 412 of Federal Decree-Law Number (31) of 2021, any male who indecently molests a female by words or acts on a public road or in a frequented place and/or disguises himself as a woman and enters a place reserved for women or where entry is forbidden for other than women at that time shall be imprisoned for not more than one year and/or fined not more than AED 10,000.

The new decree-law Number 33 of 2021, makes it illegal for an employer, his or her superiors at work, or coworkers to engage in sexual harassment, bullying, or any other type of verbal, physical, or psychological aggression against a worker. Although the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has made substantial women's rights changes in recent years, such as enacting new domestic violence safeguards, severe discrimination against women and girls still exists. Human Rights Watch submitted a report to a UN committee examining the UAE's adherence to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women on February 26, 2021.

Impact Of Covid-19 On Harassment Against Women

Preliminary research suggests that violence against women and girls is on the rise around the world. According to findings from service-use statistics in several countries, COVID-19 has been linked to a rise in reported cases of domestic violence to helplines, women's refuges/shelters, and the police. In certain countries, calls to helplines have increased. However, in other nations, the number of domestic violence occurrences reported has decreased, showing accessibility and availability issues during lockdowns and other social distancing measures. 52 nations had included violence against women and girls’ prevention and response into COVID-19 plans by October 2021, and 150 countries had taken steps to improve services for women survivors of violence during the global crisis. To construct a post-pandemic world that is equal, continued efforts are essential to ensure that recovery solutions effectively include measures to end harassment against women. During COVID-19 lockdowns, Internet searches connected to violence against women and help-seeking increased dramatically, according to big data analysis in eight Asian countries. Between October 2019 and September 2020, searches for physical harassment increased by 47% in Malaysia, 63% in the Philippines, and 55% in Nepal, using phrases like physical abuse indications, violent relationships, and hide bruises on the face. In almost every country, searches for help-seeking terms such as "Domestic Violence helpline" surged, including a 70% spike in Malaysia.

Thus, addressing all forms of sexual harassment, not just the most serious cases, moving beyond legal compliance, supporting targets when they come forward, improving transparency and accountability, diffusing the power structure between faculty and trainees, and revising organizational systems and structures to value diversity, inclusion, and respect are all necessary for changing the current culture and climate. To make these changes and to build and maintain the culture and norms, leaders at all levels of academia will be required. However, all members of our nation's college campuses including students, instructors, staff, and administrators will need to take responsibility for maintaining a civil and courteous environment if these reforms are to be successful. Stopping sexual harassment is everyone's responsibility.