Abu Dhabi, Mar. 19 (BNA): Nearly 50 years ago, the key challenge faced by the UAE and the rest of the region was how to empower women and enable them to enjoy their rights to education and health, women’s engagement in the labour market was not even an option.
Today, the situation is entirely different. The presence of women is equal to the presence of men, even leading men in several indexes, most notably in terms of the percentage of higher education students.
The participation and contributions of Emirati women in the country’s two recent achievements will remain a vivid memory in the minds of people for a long time. Emirati women contributed to the launch of the Hope Probe to Mars and the inauguration of Phase I and II of the first peaceful nuclear plant in the Arab region.
The UAE currently aims to be on the list of ten leading countries in the United Nations (UN) Gender Equality Index, after being ranked 18th in the world this year and first in the Middle East and North Africa, according to the World Bank’s latest report.
What has changed in 50 years? And how did the UAE manage to overachieve compared to the region’s countries and many other countries in terms of strengthening women’s presence and topping men in the labour market and employment in many sectors? How did Emirati women manage to achieve higher rates than men in education, and how did they attain 50 percent of seats in the Federal National Council (FNC), as well as a robust presence in the UAE Cabinet with nine female ministers?
Several factors have contributed to the current position of Emirati women, which include creating a legislative environment that supports women, starting from the constitution to a series of federal laws and local resolutions that ensured equal opportunities for men and women. These procedures have prioritised women at certain times and accelerated their empowerment. Moreover, the “National Women Empowerment Strategy” has greatly influenced this process, offering a key reference for the federal, local, private sector and non-profit institutions, in addition to national policies and support groups with the representation of women’s empowerment organisations, most notably the General Women’s Union (GWU), which has played a major role, since the establishment of the country, in overcoming challenges and obstacles facing women’s empowerment.
H.H. Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the GWU, Chairwoman of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, and Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation (FDF), the “Mother of the UAE,” commented on the position of women in the UAE, stating, “The UAE has succeeded in fully empowering women and made women’s empowerment a concrete reality.”
In detail, the UAE has become a leading global model of women’s empowerment and protecting their rights, being ranked first regionally and 18th globally in the UN Gender Equality Index. The country is also ranked first in the Middle East and North Africa in the World Bank 2021 report, entitled, “Women, Business and the Law,” achieving full scores in five pillars, which are the freedoms of movement, employment, wages, entrepreneurship and pensions.
We can surely say that 2019 and 2020 were the years of women in the UAE when the country issued 11 new laws and law amendments aimed at consolidating women’s rights and empowering them in all areas.
In terms of labour, the UAE issued the Federal Decree of Law No.6 for 2020 to amend several provisions of Federal Law No.8 for 1980 on regulating labour relations, ensuring equal pay for women and men working in the private sector, and guaranteeing a five-working day paid paternity leave for male private sector employees. Moreover, the UAE issued a regulation in 2019 ensuring equal pay between women and men working in government authorities, becoming the first country in the region to issue this type of legislation.
Furthermore, an Emirati law stipulates the cancellation of all restrictions to women working at night and opened up all industries to women, including mining, construction, manufacturing, energy, agriculture and transport. It also prohibits employers from terminating women’s employment due to pregnancy, as well as gender discrimination in terms of jobs and promotions.
In the area of political participation, President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan issued a resolution in 2019 raising the representation of women in the FNC to 50 percent.
New laws and legislative amendments recently issued by the UAE offer new gains for women in the area of protection. The country also issued a new law on domestic violence, protecting all individuals, both male and female, without discrimination. Moreover, the UAE’s penal code stipulates the enforcement of punishments, including detention, fines or both, on anyone who molests women in a manner that offends their modesty in public or any crowded area through words or actions.
In 2020, the UAE introduced amendments to the Penal Code by cancelling an article excusing so-called “honour crimes,” so crimes of murder are dealt with under the provisions in force of the Penal Code, highlighting the country’s commitment to protecting women's rights and ensuring the rule of law.
The UAE issued an anti-discrimination law in 2019 that prohibits all forms of gender discrimination. Under the same framework, the UAE Central Bank issued a circular in the same year to all banks, finance companies and exchanges operating in the country on gender equality and non-discrimination in terms of banking and credit transactions. In 2019, the UAE Cabinet issued a resolution on women’s representation in the judiciary corps.
Emirati women are an integral part of the UAE’s two leading recent achievements, the Hope Probe that successfully travelled to Mars and the launch of the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant.
The participation of Emirati women in the Hope Probe team accounted for 34 percent, rising to 80 percent of the probe’s scientific team. They account for 20 percent of the total employees of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), which is one of the highest global rates in the nuclear energy sector.
Women’s empowerment and the protection of their rights are not only limited to citizens but also include all women residing in the UAE, which was confirmed by the latest figures of the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Centre (FCSC) highlighting the fact that women account for 33.7 percent of the population. The report also revealed several statistics that reflect the country’s leadership in women’s empowerment.
In the education sector, the percentage of female graduates in the field of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is 49.1 percent of total graduates, and the number of female students enrolled in higher education totals 362,687 while female holders of PhD degrees amounted to 15,426. The percentage of female media, journalism and social science graduates accounted for 63 percent. Women have a significant presence in the business sector, accounting for 24 percent of the total employees around the country, as well as 46 percent of the boards of directors of federal authorities.
Women also make up 64 percent of education sector employees, which is the same percentage in medical, nursing and technical professions in the health sector, as well as 31 percent of total employees in the finance, banking and insurance sectors.
The FCDC also revealed that the total number of registered companies owned by women is 80,025. Women account for 21.5 percent of administrative positions and 32.5 percent of specialist professions.