She is an American married to a UAE national, and her fight has focused on an altogether darker and more hidden aspect of UAE society: domestic abuse.
She says: “My friends and I discovered that domestic violence was stepping up and so I started taking women into my home … We have rape victims. We have rape victims who are pregnant. And sometimes after the pregnancy, we have had to do DNA tests to prove the identity of the child’s father” … “The development of the UAE is really amazing. But what I saw happening (at the beginning) was the development of a lot of social problems, which, as a result of the sudden influx of over 100 different nationalities, were being overlooked”.
The City of Hope – an organization founded in 2001 by Sharla and two other women, Lena Mustapha and Margaret Greeney – has served as a refuge for hundreds of abused women and children. Its establishment, says Sharla, was in direct response to a growing need that has been neglected during the UAE’s stunning infrastructural and cultural transformation … The police and other social agencies, says Sharla, found it hard to cope with the sudden rush of an incoming multinational population. Their systems – designed with the customs of the UAE in mind – began to crack. (full text).
Sharla Musabih – United Arab Emirates
She works for the City of Hope.
… for a Muslim cleric who sees the shelter going against the conservative culture of the society, Musabih is a “suspect foreigner who is inciting women against their husbands.” “There are courts and law in this country. A woman being beaten by her husband can file a lawsuit and the judge would divorce her,” Iraqi Sheikh Ahmad al-Qubaisi said. The U.A.E.-based cleric said people are very wary of the role of the shelter, claiming that some see it as a stop to traffic women into prostitution.
Musabih said she was aware of many campaigns to distort the image of the shelter, mainly by “abusive husbands of women who were helped by the shelter.” Qubaisi said marital problems should be sorted first through the family, and government departments if needed, but not by running to a “suspect” shelter. Musabih agreed the first port of call for a woman subjected to domestic violence should be the police human rights department, which usually refers her to hospital for a medical report. But she complained that human rights officers are generally not trained to deal with cases of domestic violence. She said they tend to call in the husband of a pleading wife, promising to make him sign a pledge not to abuse her again. “That’s why most women don’t want to go to the police because that triples their problems,” claimed Musabih, pointing out that women later suffer the revenge of a husband who feels humiliated. In court, women who demand divorce over domestic violence have to wait a long time, even years … The majority of women who seek help from the shelter are foreigners. They are married either to Emiratis or other Arabs, or subjected to violence from family members. Some are abused domestic workers. A 22-year-old veiled Asian girl told AFP she ended up in the shelter after repeated attempts to escape being abused by her family, which had confiscated her passport and tried to force her into an arranged marriage. “My mother and younger brother were violent with me, beating me with fists and pulling my hair,” she said, adding her country’s embassy refused to issue her a new passport to be able to leave the U.A.E., telling her: “It is wrong to go against your family’s wishes.” There are no independent statistics on violence against women in Gulf countries. (full text).
She says also: “Our doors are open for anyone in distress irrespective of caste, creed, colour or religion. Any human being in danger has the right to be safe and that is the reason we are here ‘to provide shelter’ without asking any questions” … “We can now talk about many issues openly which was not possible earlier. In all these years, I have managed to build a network that leads me to a person in distress” … The villa is also home to women caught in the trafficking web. “It’s a mafia out there. Women from Far Eastern Europe are brought to the country with promises of good jobs in hotels, boutiques and beauty salons. When they board the aircraft, they are given passports that change their nationality, and when they are deported, they land in the hands of the mafia again,” she said. “Such women are looked down upon in our society, but does anyone realise that they are physically, mentally and emotionally scarred for life?” asks Sharla. The sight of innocent children abandoned by parents is among the most heart-wrenching sights one can come across, says Sharla. “They do not have any relations, no status and above all no home to go back to,” she says, adding: “We keep them at the shelter home till their cases are sorted out with the authorities and they are placed in a foster home. They need dignity, love, education and a secure future”. (full text).
United Arab Emirates: Debate surrounds women’s shelter in Dubai – 23/11/2006: The recent introduction of a federal law against trafficking in human beings, and its intention to step up efforts to curb abuse of laborers have sparked a debate on the need to establish a women’s shelter in Dubai. (Middle East Times). There is “a need” for a women’s shelter in the city, the director of the human rights section at the Dubai police department, Mohammed Al Mur, recently told the press. He added that the section has already made a formal request for a government-sponsored shelter for abused women who have nowhere to go. This unprecedented admission by an official on the importance of hosting a women’s shelter came at the heels of charges by human rights organizations that the booming emirate does not do enough to protect foreign workers from abusive employers. It has also been charged that the cosmopolitan city tolerates human trafficking, especially that of women who often fall prey to prostitution. The UAE responded swiftly with the official announcements that strict measures will be taken against those who violate regulations that guarantee laborers’ rights and by issuing the anti-trafficking law. The human rights debate soon after took another turn, focusing on the dire need for protecting abused women and children. (full text).
Read: Blogging from the UAE, the city of hope.
EISIL, International Law;
ISLAM FOR TODAY. (etc. etc., just put the keywords ‘women Muslim laws’ into your browser).