Close this search box.


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) employs various legal mechanisms to explicitly acknowledge and penalize nonconformity with traditional gender roles. Instances of transgender expression, which are characterized by unconventional physical appearances or accessories, frequently result in the apprehension, confinement, or expulsion of non-Emirati tourists and residents. Furthermore, the recognition of legal gender identity is significantly constrained as a result of legislation that limits access to healthcare that affirms gender identity and the lack of a well-defined legal framework concerning changes to one’s name and gender marker. It is worth noting that a recently enacted medical liability law explicitly proscribes any form of healthcare that supports gender identity for non-intersex individuals.

Explicit: There are several bodies of legal texts that delineate the degree of criminalization pertaining to transgender expression, varying from outright prohibition of such expression to the existence of ambiguous morality laws. For instance, Article 359 specifically addresses the issue of transgender women accessing gender-segregated areas, albeit there have been numerous instances where this particular penal code has been employed to prosecute individuals in public spaces, regardless of their gender identity.

“Whoever molests a female in an indecent way by words or action in a public road or in a frequented place shall be subject to the punishments of incarceration for no more than one year and fine of no more than AED One Hundred Thousand or one of the two punishments. The same punishment shall apply to any male who enters under disguise to any place allocated for women only or to which the entry of men is forbidden. Should the male commit any crime under such disguise, this shall constitute an aggravating circumstance.”

Alternatively, morality laws may be used as de-facto criminalization of transgender expression in some cases. For example, Article 362 bans the possession and distributions of any media deemed “immoral.” In parallel, Article 361 of the Penal Code also criminalizes “acting immoral” in public spaces or prompting others to do so. 

“Whoever manufactures, imports, exports, possesses, acquires or transports for the purpose of exploiting, distributing or displaying to others any writings, drawings, images, films, symbols or other items if they are violating public morals, shall be subject to the punishments of incarceration for no more than one month and a fine of no more than AED One Hundred Thousand or one of the two punishments. The same punishment shall apply to any person who advertises any of the previously mentioned items.”

Whoever publicly makes appeals or songs, yelling or speech that is immoral or publicly entice others to indecency in any way whatsoever shall be subject to the punishments of incarceration for no more than one month and a fine of no more than AED One Hundred Thousand or one of the two punishments.

Finally, new laws combating cybercrime in the UAE can also target any information condoning or promoting immoral behavior on any information technology platform, website, or apps.  

“Shall be punished by temporary imprisonment and a fine not less than five hundred thousand dirhams and not in excess of one million dirhams whoever establishes or administer or runs a website or publishes on a computer network or any information technology means which would promote or praise any programs or ideas which would prompt riot, hatred, racism, sectarianism, or damage the national unity or social peace or prejudice the public order and public morals.”

While the law does not explicitly mention transgender or queer existence or expression, it is likely to reference queerness or transgender expression as immoral and therefore within the jurisdiction of this text. For example, the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority in the UAE specifies that it blocks all access to websites that promote “destructive principles such as homosexuality” in their Internet Access Management Regulatory Policy. As such, posts describing queerness to any extent online might be deemed illegal. 

Legal Gender Recognition:

Changing one’s legal name is technically possible under UAE law after submitting a petition to a court, as well as receiving approval from one’s home consulate if they are not a UAE citizen. However, by inferring from other prohibitory texts concerning legal gender recognition and access to gender-affirming healthcare, the courts may accept or reject name changes based on societal gender norms. 

The Federal Decree Law Concerning Medical Liability explicitly describes the illegitimacy of any gender transition that is not in accordance with the state’s reasoning as to who should transition and why, mostly focused on a “biological need” such as the characteristics or desires that intersex people might display. As such, those who are permitted to transition medically in the UAE may also gain access to legal gender recognition. 

While the current legislation presents new obstacles for the process of legal gender recognition, the Federal Decree, Law No. 4 of 2016 had more lenient definitions and requirements for both legal gender recognition and access to gender-affirming healthcare. For instance, the law previously stated that individuals could undergo sex reassignment surgery if their “sexual affiliation” or gender identity did not align with their biological and genetic traits. Consequently, many legal professionals argued that a disparity between gender identity and biological characteristics could grant plaintiffs access to gender-affirming healthcare. However, under the new legislation, this possibility no longer exists.

Furthermore, the following lawsuits and petitions that were brought before the Emirati Judiciary are interconnected, albeit at different stages of litigation.

Gender Affirming Healthcare:

Restricted, Explicit criminalization: Article 1 of the Federal Decree Law Concerning Medical Liability defines the terms sex change and sex reassignment under the framework of Emirati and Islamic Law. This describes who may or may not transition legally in the UAE.

“Sex Change (Transsexuality): Modifying the gender of an individual with a clearly defined gender identity (whether male or female), whose sexual physical attributes align with their physiological, biological, and genetic characteristics, and whose gender identity is not subject to any questioning (whether male or female). This definition also implies that undergoing a Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) in such cases would be deemed an incongruous departure from the gender classification determined by medical evaluations.

Sex Reassignment (Sex Correction): A medical intervention made for correcting the gender of a person whose gender identity is vague and suspicious (whether he/ she is a man or woman), for example, that person has sexual physical features inconsistent with his/ her physiological and biological and genetic characteristics. Moreover, that person’s facial features indicate that he is a male, while in fact he is a female, and vice versa.”

The emphasis on a “deviation from a gender type established by a medical analyses” describes disapproval of any access to gender-affirming healthcare for transgender people who are not also intersex. As such, gender-reassignment can be considered a punishable offense if done domestically without state approval. In parallel, filing a petition to the court requesting a change in one’s legal gender marker on legal identification documents would not be permissible without first gaining approval from the court to transition under specific circumstances. 

The Federal Decree Law Concerning Medical Liability also explicitly states that physicians will be punished for providing gender-affirming healthcare, described as sex change surgeries in Article 5. On the other hand, sex reassignment surgeries are regulated through a series of conditions specified in Article 7. 

“A physician shall not do any of the following: (9) Perform sex change (transsexuality) surgeries;”

“Sex Reassignment Surgeries (Sex correction) may be performed according to the following controls:

  1. The person’s gender identity is obscure and is suspicious about being male or female;
  2. The person has sexual and physical features inconsistent with his/her physiological, biological and genetic characteristics.
  3. The provision of Paragraphs (1 and 2) of this Article shall be proven by medical reports and approval of specialized medical committees formed by the Health Authority with the aim of defining the patient’s gender identity and approving the reassignment surgery. The said committee shall refer the case to a psychologist to make the necessary psychological preparation.”


In addition to a body of text criminalizing transgender identity and expression, the nature of the state’s legislation also involves the opinions of Islamic law.

1.      Obtain medical evidence verifying the vague characteristics of a person’s sexual affiliation and confirming their medical need to transition. If their sexual affiliation is deemed ambiguous, they are considered Khuntha and therefore need to correct their sex to maintain normative legal, social, and financial rights.

2.      Obtain approval from the appropriate administrative and legal bodies to undergo treatment and alleviate confusion about the person’s sexual affiliation.

Fatwa 94 – UAE

Fatwa Number: 94/2013
Issuing Date: 05/03/2013
Mufti: General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments
Issuing Authority: General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments
Question: What is the judgement on sex correction and sex change surgeries?
Fiqh Rule: Sex change surgeries, which aim to alter an individual’s sexual and physical characteristics to transition from one gender to another, are strictly prohibited in Fiqh due to their perceived alteration of Allah’s creation. In contrast, sex correction, procedures aimed at rectifying organic physical dysfunctions that have resulted in ambiguities regarding an individual’s sex are deemed lawful. These corrective interventions seek to alleviate pathological conditions and remove doubts concerning an individual’s assigned sex, ensuring alignment with their true biological sex. It is important to note that such interventions do not constitute a modification of Allah’s creation, but rather a legitimate remedy aimed at restoring health and well-being. It is worth mentioning that sexual orientation is not directly addressed within this context and therefore does not warrant specific expression or treatment.

Fatwa 12/MM3 – UAE

Fatwa Number: 12/MM3
Issuing Date: 26/02/2013
Mufti: General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments
Issuing Authority: General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments
Question: What is the judgement on sex correction surgeries?
Fiqh Rule: Sex correction surgeries are allowed for individuals who have a medically confirmed biological condition that necessitates it. It is crucial to establish medical and legal criteria in order to evaluate these cases.