Clear progress in empowering Emirati women
The United Arab Emirates wants equality between the sexes and it is doing what should be done to measure success: It is keeping score.
Real change doesn’t come about because of meetings, speeches or laws; it happens because companies and individuals are given targets and told they will be held to a higher standard.
The UAE isn’t just saying all the right things when it comes to improving the role of women in society, it is backing its words with actions.
Ten days after the UAE celebrated its third Emirati Women’s Day in late August, the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children put on a ten-day exhibition, titled “Seasons of Change,” of paintings by women who have survived sexual abuse, domestic violence or human trafficking. The 10-year-old, non-profit facility provides shelter to women of all nationalities who have been subjected to such human rights violations.
In February 2015, the UAE created the Gender Balance Council to help empower Emirati women.
In February 2017, the council announced its Gender Balance Guide — the first of its kind in the region — which was developed in collaboration with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The Emirati news agency WAM reported: “The guide provides benchmarks and concrete steps to balance genders in workplaces among decision-making positions, promote women-friendly working environments and instil gender balance within the policy framework.”
Scorecards are to be kept and, as a result, companies would be rewarded for meeting criteria to ensure equality between men and women. WAM said gender-balance progress would be measured through a number of national indicators, including the Social Cohesion Index and the Happiness Index.
Even before the council and the guide, the UAE had already done much to empower women:
In September 2008, the UAE appointed the country’s first women as ambassadors: Hissa al-Otaiba to Spain and Sheikha Najla al-Qassimi to Sweden.
That same year, women began being trained as part of the VIP Protection Unit at Dubai Police. Today, there are more than 40 highly trained women who specialise in protecting key officials.
The country’s ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations is Lana Nusseibeh, who was appointed to the post in September 2013.
On September 2014, Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador to the United States, said that Major Mariam al-Mansouri, the country’s first female fighter pilot, had led air strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS). “She is a fully qualified, highly trained, combat-ready pilot and she is on a mission,” Otaiba said on MSNBC.
That same month, the UAE opened the region’s first military college for women, Khawla bint Al Azwar Military School, from which Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan’s daughter graduated in August 2016.
The literacy rate in the UAE is higher among women (95.8%) than men (93.1%), 2015 figures from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics indicated. (The global average for women is 82.7%.)
More than 70 of the 330 candidates in the 2015 Federal National Council elections were women; the consultative body is led by a woman, Noura bint Mohammed al-Kaabi; eight federal cabinet ministers are women; close to 70% of government positions are held by women.
In February 2016, the UAE named Ohood bint Khalfan al-Roumi to the position with — arguably — the highest public profile for any political appointee: minister of state for happiness.
In July 2017, Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan’s daughter graduated from her military summer session. Sheikha Fatima bint Abdullah bin Zayed said her father was fully supportive of her decision to enroll. “He told me it is the duty of every citizen to love their nation and their wise leadership,” she said, as reported by WAM.
In the United States, women account for 55% of undergraduates at four-year colleges. Emirati women make up about 70% of all university graduates in the UAE.
“Under the Constitution, women enjoy the same legal status, claim to titles, access to education, the right to practise professions, and the right to inherit property as men,” the website for the UAE Embassy in Washington stated. “Women are also guaranteed the same access to employment, health and family welfare facilities.”
Mari Kiviniemi, deputy secretary-general of the OECD and a former prime minister of Finland, said at the launch of the Gender Balance Guide that the guide “lays out the road map for the UAE and its organisations to harness the untapped potential that women represent.”
And there is considerable potential.
In July, Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid al-Qasimi, minister of state for tolerance, said women are a powerful economic entity because more than 23,000 businesswomen hold a collective investment exceeding $10 billion in the country.
The UAE sees the value in empowering women. If societies are to grow, then women must be treated the same as men. The UAE recognises this and is now keeping score.