The majlis: Should we treat mothers in the UAE any differently?
When my father was diagnosed with cancer, my mother took it on herself to assume the role of the breadwinner in our household. My mother, Mouza Khamis Al Suwaidi, started working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while continuing as a mother to six boys and four girls.
I’m grateful to have her as a role model for my sisters and a mentor to my brothers and myself. My mother believes in equality, and she was always proactive about this. I was raised to believe in women, to respect their sacrifice and most importantly to always believe in their capabilities. My mother used to always tell us: “Your wife is there when you are not. Your children’s heaven is under her feet; make sure she is standing strong and stable”.
With women in mind, a question I ask myself is: should we treat women differently because they’re mothers or should we treat mothers equally because they’re women?
Consider the current hot topic of leave benefits. Based on federal labour law, the UAE grants working mothers 45 fully paid days for maternity leave, which would include pre- and post-birth. Based on Abu Dhabi civil service law, a full-time female employee is entitled to 60 calendar days — 45 maternity and 15 nurture. But is that enough?
The Mother of the Nation, Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, has continuously believed in the power of women. If it weren’t for her support of women, my mother wouldn’t have found a decent job. Sheikha Fatima recently stated that working mothers deserve longer maternity leave. For that to occur, however, human-resources personnel have to consider ways to implement this without disrupting productivity.
When I look at female employees, I see my daughter’s future. This fate could be shaped by what happens today, and I want my daughter, and all our daughters, to be given the rights they deserve. This includes the right to freely choose their careers and their marital status without fear of cultural shame, and to be able to compete with men as equals. I don’t believe in treating women differently – if you don’t want women to gain equal rights and don’t want them to work, then don’t let them work on raising the next generation. Women are pillars of society. Women shouldn’t be the only ones responsible for raising a country – fathers play an important role – but children still return to their mothers’ arms in times of need.
We shouldn’t, however, expect that all organisations will happily welcome the proposed six months’ paid leave for working mothers. We need to find a solution that can suffice for now. We could, instead, provide working mothers with flexible work weeks, reducing the normal 40-hour week to a flexible 20 hours. Meetings could be scheduled on the days that they’re present, with the rest of the work completed from home. I understand that not all jobs could be managed remotely, so there could be designated development programmes for working mothers, where they could train others or be trained during their maternity leave. The possibilities are endless.
The pay gap between men and women is narrowing, and women are now in almost every field, including some who are industry leaders. With living costs rising as well, more than ever, women are required to work. Yet helping women who work to fulfil their responsibilities as parents is what we should consider when planning our working environments.
I dedicate this to all the working mothers; those working on developing the next generation at work and at home; to my beloved mother and to my beloved partner.
Khaled Al Suwaidi is an education and training professional working for the Education and Training Department at the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation.
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Published: September 8, 2016 04:00 AM