Report: Empowering Women in the UAE

Celebrating National Women’s Achievements ahead of the UAE's Government Summit 2015 Ahead of the Government Summit, UAE women’s attainment in terms of education, labor participation and political representation are...
Celebrating National Women’s Achievements ahead of the UAE's Government Summit 2015
Ahead of the Government Summit, UAE women’s attainment in terms of education, labor participation and political representation are at the forefront of the country’s major achievements, report by Maha Tazi.
 
GovtSummit2015-Women
Education

According to the 2013 Global Gender Gap Report, the UAE is the only Arab country in the MENA region that has fully closed the educational attainment gender gap.

Today, 91% of Emirati women are literate, with a significantly higher number of women in secondary and tertiary education. In a region where gender inequality rates are amongst the highest in the world on many levels, UAE female students outnumber their male counterparts, where nearly half the pupils registered in over the 1,250 schools across the country are girls.

Quite surprisingly, statistics at the tertiary level are even more impressive, discrediting many of the stereotypes about the local culture: In fact, Emirati women constitute 77% of total university students, the highest percentage of women in higher education in the world, which is also the biggest pride and achievement of the government in the field of education today.


Emirati women constitute 77% of total university students, the highest percentage of women in higher education in the world, which is also the biggest pride of the government in the field of education today.


In fact, 95% of female high-school graduates pursue further education at tertiary-level institutions, compared to 80% of males only: At government universities, women constitute almost two-thirds of the students (71.6 per cent) and over half at private tertiary-level institutions (50.1 per cent).

Not only quantitatively speaking but also qualitatively, women are leading the way in tertiary education institutions. In fact, in a country that is still believed to abide by the traditional gender roles and the predominant social norms of the region, women also outperform their male counterparts academically and are leading the way in faculties that were previously considered to be an exclusively male domain. Cases in point, at the prestigious Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi, 60% of Emirati graduate students are female. Likewise, more than half (56 per cent) of the country’s federal university graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are women; more importantly, most of these women also have aspirations of becoming their next generations’ leaders.


In a country that is still believed to abide by the traditional gender and the predominant social norms of the region, national women also outperform their male counterparts academically and are leading the way in faculties that were previously considered to be an exclusively male domain.


Educational attainment has, therefore, played a major role in the UAE achieving a ranking of fortieth in the Gender Inequality Index, part of the 2013 UN Human Development Report, which is a major achievement for a country that is barely more than 40 years old and which significantly stands amongst in neighbors in terms of women advocacy and gender equality attainment.

Economic Participation

On the economic level, Emirati women constitute 43% of the total labor force in the UAE today. The contribution of national women to the economy has significantly increased during the past two decades moving from 9.6% in 1986 to 33.4% in 2007, which represents a 3.5% average annual growth.

In the public sector, national women account for 66% of the workforce, which is significantly above the global average of 48%. More importantly, 30% of these women are also present in senior and decision-making positions, a figure that is very much close to the levels of advanced countries.

In fact, the UAE is the first country in the Arab region and the second country worldwide that has made the appointment of women to UAE boards mandatory in 2012 on the basis of introducing more capable women into leadership roles in a male-dominated. This strategy, besides advocating women leadership, also aimed at allowing companies to become more competitive and to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.

As a direct consequence of this law, national women also head prestigious government entities today, such as twofour54 media free zone, TECOM and Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority.


 

The UAE is the first country in the Arab region and the second country worldwide that has made the appointment of women to UAE boards mandatory in 2012 on the basis that introducing more capable women into leadership roles in a male-dominated.


However, despite increasing success stories and the high number of women who run their own businesses (above 14,000), there is a significant gap between male and female employment, especially in the private sector, which has not kept pace with educational achievements.

Today, only 43.5% of national women age 15 and over are active, compared to 92.3% of men. The reasons for this are complex and are believed to be related more to employment conditions, personal choices and cultural norms than to government policy.

In fact, during the last decades, women have also denounced increasing discriminatory practices in the workplace: 37% of women participants to a recent survey reported receiving a lower pay rate because of their gender while 21% of Emirati women also denounced having been overlooked for a work promotion due to gender discrimination.

Politics

Today, Emirati women represent 22.5% of the parliament, accounting for nine members of the Federal National Council of the UAE. National women also make up 17% of the Cabinet, which translates into four female ministers: the minister of Foreign Trade, Minister of Social Affairs and two Ministers of State.


Statistically, the UAE’s female literacy and higher education enrolment rates, are certainly impressive. But infinitely more important is the example set here by the UAE, and the potential thus created for women of the MENA to reclaim their place in society at all levels, so that the social, cultural and intellectual balance, long since missing in the region, might finally be found again.


In addition to that, five women act as representative of the UAE abroad today including three ambassadors, one consul general and the UAE’s representative to the United Nations in New York. More recently, four women have been appointed as judges, two as public prosecutors and 17 as assistant public prosecutors and marriage officials.

Challenging convention and bringing down all the stereotypes, national women are also more and more present in the armed forces, customs and police services.

All of these figures, therefore, provide highly positive signs for the achievement of greater gender equality in the future and the creation of more opportunities for national women to stand as leaders and be an inspiration for their future generations.

Commenting on the recent gains and achievements of national women, Dr Feras Hamza, Associate Professor and Program Director of International Studies at the University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD), said: “Statistically, the UAE’s female literacy and higher education enrolment rates, are certainly impressive. But infinitely more important is the example set here by the UAE, and the potential thus created for women of the MENA region to reclaim their place in society at all levels, so that the social, cultural and intellectual balance, long since missing in the region, might finally be found again.”

About the Writer:

MAHAMaha Tazi is a graduate in International Relations and Middle Eastern Politics from the University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD). She is currently working as a Project Consultant in Public Relations and Corporate Communications at APCO Worldwide and teaching part-time as an adjunct instructor in Philosophy at UOWD. Maha has a special interest in world affairs and gender issues: She took a Women Studies course for one year at Sciences Po Paris and worked with several civil society organizations which struggle for the advancement of women’s rights including Association Solidarite Feminine (ASF) in Morocco.

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