Gender equality is more than financial

Women need access to loans, certainly, but the empowerment of women is about much more than credit at the bank.

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The UAE has consistently taken steps to empower women. Female workers can be seen across all sectors of the economy, from media and law to engineering and science. But while the UAE is ahead of other countries in the region in guaranteeing gender rights and equality, women's empowerment is still a work in progress.

As The National reported yesterday, Emirati women in general say they are not given enough of a say when it comes to financial matters in their families. Half of the 414 people surveyed by the Marriage Fund said decisions about paying for a home, household budgeting and matters like buying a car are made by the husband. As Ahmad Alomosh, dean of sociology at Sharjah University, put it: "This is a patriarchal society, so men would never let go of this." That may be a common sentiment, but with the proportion of university-educated women increasing annually in the UAE, it would seem reasonable to assume roughly half of society would disagree.

Focus on empowerment of women is essential to the development of the nation. While male students tend to drop out of schools early, to find a job and start a family, around 77 per cent of female students continue on to higher education. Women make up three of every five students in the UAE's public higher education.

Unfortunately, many female graduates never make it into the workforce for a variety of reasons. Authorities must deal with the social issues that prevent women from starting a career after graduation, including providing better infrastructure that eases mobility; in more conservative areas many women do not search for jobs outside their communities because it is difficult for them to commute. Women in those areas often have to accept jobs outside their areas of interest, typically in the public sector.

Moreover, authorities can do more to remove the negative stigma associated with women taking on more financial responsibility by clearing the way for women to assume top jobs in finance or business leadership. Young women, and stubborn husbands, need more role models.

In response to the perception that women are not financially empowered in the home, the Marriage Fund has called for Emirati women to be given better access to loans. But far more important for a nation that is seeing a rapid rise in female education rates is to empower women outside the home, and hope the result trickles in.