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  • Writer's pictureDetained in Dubai

Miss World criticised for selecting Dubai as 2023 pageant host


The Miss World pageant, the oldest beauty contest in the world, will be held in Dubai this year, according to organisers. The move is expected to ignite considerable criticism, given that the UAE trails most of the world in all metrics that measure gender equality and women’s rights.


Radha Stirling, founder and CEO of Detained in Dubai, expressed dual concerns about the planned event, the date for which has not yet been determined; “Of course we are troubled by the choice of the UAE for the Miss World pageant, just as we are troubled by any major event, celebrity, concert, or festival choosing to normalise and reward the Emirates by their presence. Such patronage deflects from the serious and systematic human rights violations and abuses that characterise the UAE justice system. Giving the Emirates these sorts of international events and endorsements plays into Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s marketing and propaganda campaign to misrepresent the UAE as a modern, progressive, and tolerant country while it actually remains rigid, autocratic, and in many ways, quite brutal. This makes the Miss World pageant, and any other such event, complicit in whitewashing the UAE’s abuses. But in addition, we find it disturbingly ironic that the pageant, whose slogan has long been ‘beauty with a higher purpose’, should opt to hold the event in a country that is so drastically repressive and disenfranchising towards women.

The UAE ranks 120th out of 153 countries globally on gender equality. A World Economic Forum report said it would take approximately 150 years for the Emirates to close the gender gap in terms of legal and socio economic rights.” Stirling notes the male-dominated nature of both the UAE legal system and culture as further proof that Miss World’s choice of Dubai is ethically inappropriate, “The Emirates designates men as guardians for their female relatives,” She says, “Giving them the power to make life-changing decisions. A woman needs permission (usually from her father) to marry and a court order (from her husband) to divorce. Until just 2019, domestic violence against women was an acceptable disciplinary action by male relatives legalised by the UAE Supreme Court. While a recent law rectified this somewhat by stipulating that physical violence did not need to leave a mark to be considered abuse, the new law defines domestic abuse as any physical act, verbal abuse, or threat committed by a family member against another family member ‘that exceeds an individual's guardianship, jurisdiction, authority, or responsibility’, leaving plenty of room for men to justify violence and abuse before a reliably sympathetic judge.


“Indeed, the culture of UAE courts is still notoriously regressive, and judges usually show leniency to those who commit domestic violence. A U.S. government report noted that the UAE ‘did not enforce domestic abuse laws effectively, and domestic abuse against women, including spousal abuse, remains a problem’, and there is little indication that the government is genuinely concerned about improving the situation.” Stirling points out that Dubai’s Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has himself been incriminated in the torture and abuse of his own wife and daughters, and was denied custody by a British court during divorce proceedings on this basis. “Princess Haya fled the UAE in order to sue for divorce and to protect her children, knowing that the system would be biased against her – despite her status,” Stirling explains, “Both Princess Shamsa and Latifa attempted to escape the UAE, only to be apprehended and forced to remain, allegedly under violent coercion. If this is the situation for the highest status women in the Emirates, we cannot expect better for average women in the UAE. We were involved in the case of Hind Mohammed al-Bolooki, for instance, a mother of four children who was threatened by her father, uncle and brother when she sought to divorce her husband. She literally escaped barefoot from the family home through a window and hid inside a construction site until she found a way out of the country to seek asylum.


“The UAE is hardly the right location for any event that purports to honour or empower women, and frankly, it is disgraceful that the Miss World organisers would let Dubai use their pageant to conceal and misrepresent the truly repressive culture and legal system that victimises women in the United Arab Emirates every day.”

 
 
 

Ms Stirling tells Luke Grant about the appalling abuse of women’s right in Dubai and the story of Princess Latifa, who fled Dubai in 2018.

A British court ruling has found that the Princesses father arranged the kidnapping of the Princess and her sister.

 

In a message she recorded prior to fleeing Dubai in March in what turned out to be a doomed attempt to reach the US via India, Latifa described the details of her detention in the UAE, her abuse, her earlier kidnapping as well as the kidnapping of her sister. She also said that she feared for her life.

 

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