Taking a firm step in the right direction, 2018 was the year in which 8 important laws were passed in various Arab countries in order to pave the way for positive changes within the region.
The new laws include criminalizing sexual harassment and banning violence against women – which should be a given anywhere in the world, and these countries and the new laws making changes for the better.
UAE: Legalized Equal Pay Between Men and Women
Equal pay has been a global issue for many years, and the UAE took a positive stance in April 2018 when it’s cabinet approved a bill that guarantees equal pay for men and women at work.
Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, announced the new law on Twitter, which stated, "With the strength and rule of the law, we do not want any exceptions in providing equal opportunities for both sexes. Our Constitution ensures equal rights among the sexes and we seek to enforce and guarantee this right through the new law."
Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia Lifted the Ban on Women Driving
On June 24th 2018, Saudi women put the pedal to the metal as Saudi Arabia lifted the ban on women driving. The Kingdom had announced the cancellation of the longstanding ban, which deprived women of their right to drive, in 2017, bringing it into full effect in 2018.
Lebanon: A New Aim To Rehabilitate Drug Users Instead of Prosecuting Them
In June 2018, Lebanon’s legislators ordered district attorneys to subject drug offenders to rehabilitation as opposed to arresting them. Judge Samir Hammoud issued an order advising Lebanon’s prosecutors to immediately transfer drug users to the Drug Addiction Committee.
This circular also helps public prosecutors to apply law 376, which states that drug users would be subjected to rehabilitation and defendants the right to request treatment during their trial.
The law also instructs that in both cases, defendants would no longer be prosecuted if the committee confirms they have fully recovered. If a drug user “fails to follow through on his treatment,” they would be liable to be subjected to a potential state prosecution.
Saudi Arabia: Criminalized Sexual Harassment
Saudi Arabia’s 150 seat Shura Council passed an anti-harassment law in May 2018, coming a year after King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud ordered for it’s drafting in 2017.
The law is in place to "fight the crime of harassment, prevent it, punish perpetrators and protect victims in order to preserve the privacy, dignity and individual freedoms as guaranteed by Islamic jurisprudence and regulations in place," as reported by the BBC. Perpetrators who break this law face up to five years in prison and a fine of $80,000 USD.
Saudi Arabia: Saudi Women Are Now Free To Leave Failed Marriages
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Justice announced that it will cease applying a law that pushes women who choose to leave their marital homes to return to their husbands, in February last year.
According to local news, husbands whose wives refuse to return them after asking for a divorce will have two options: to divorce amicably or take the case to court. Saudi lawmakers have stated that they will refer to article 75 of the kingdom’s laws when it comes to divorce cases, in which it states that, "sentences forcing a woman to return to her marital home shall not be applied."
Saudi Arabia: Parents Who Aren’t Sending Their Children To School Face Prosecution
Saudi Arabia announced a law cracking down on parents who aren’t sending their children to school in September 2018. The kingdom’s Ministry of Education proclaims that it will prosecute parents who’s children in primary school have an absence rate of over 30% and will be reported to the center of child abuse. The law was announced a short time after KSA’s public prosecution said that not allowing children the opportunity to have an education is a violation of Saudi Arabia’s child protection law.
Morocco: A Ban on Violence Against Women
Morocco is one of the latest countries to criminalize violence against women and did so in September 2018. The law imposes prison sentences and fines for offenders of rape, sexual harassment, and domestic abuse. The order also amended the definition of sexual harassment to include "unsolicited acts, statements or signals of a sexual nature, delivered in person, online or via telephone." It also bans forced marriages.
In a statement on the law's passing, Bassima Hakkaoui, the country's minister of women's affairs, said the ruling is "one of the most important texts strengthening the national legal arsenal in the area of equality of the sexes."