The UAE's push for greater female participation in politics and society is a path for others to follow, Ireland's ambassador to the Emirates has told The National.
Ireland has appointed female ambassadors and top diplomats in the Middle East with the aim of strengthening ties and empowering women across the region, Alison Milton said.
The diplomat, who is Ireland's first female ambassador to the UAE, said women's representation in diplomacy brings better outcomes in all sectors of government and society.
As the UAE this week marked Emirati Women's Day, Ms Milton said she felt honoured and respected when she began her mission in Abu Dhabi just over a year ago.
“When I had the great honour of standing in front of His Highness President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, to present my credentials, I was able to say how proud I was to be the first Irish female ambassador to the UAE, and it immediately led to a response from him,” she said.
Ms Milton assumed her role in August 2022 and was previously Ireland’s first envoy to Colombia.
The Irish embassy has employees from 10 nationalities and Ms Milton also has the role of envoy to Kuwait and Qatar, plus additional responsibility for Afghanistan.
“The leadership here in this region, in my experience, also very much welcomes female participation and there's obviously very strong commitments here in the UAE, to female political participation,” she said.
“I think, therefore, there's a lot of receptiveness to me being a female ambassador here.”
The UAE has “set the example, for sure”, when it comes to appointing female ministers and officials, Ms Milton said.
She said female representation was especially strong in the Federal National Council, the parliamentary body of the UAE.
“It's not just any female ministers, you have really quite stupendous female ministers – the skills that they have in governing the country and leading in the areas that they lead on,” she said.
Ms Milton admires leading Emirati female ministers such as Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Co-operation, and Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of Climate Change and Environment.
Over the years, Ireland has expanded its representation of female ambassadors in the region with five women, including Ms Milton, leading the way in the Middle East and the Gulf region.
“After the summer of 2023, 52 per cent of our diplomatic missions will be headed by women. We set very clear targets for ourselves as a government to move towards having more female participation in our foreign diplomacy,” Ms Milton said.
It the region, ambassador Marianne Bolger is based in Jordan and also covers Iraq; ambassador Nuala O’Brien is in Egypt and also covers Syria and Lebanon; and ambassador Sonya McGuinness is based in Turkey and also covers Iran, Azerbaijan and Pakistan.
Meanwhile, diplomat Sonja Hyland is political director of Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
“It’s just so important, because I'm here in the Middle East,” Ms Milton said.
She said it was also important to have an Irish presence in Palestine.
“I guess we're very proud that now we have eight missions in the region that includes a representative office in Ramallah,”
The Irish diplomat said she feels “incredibly privileged to be here in this part of the world. I am learning a massive amount.”
Ms Milton said that Irish people don’t have enough understanding and knowledge about the region and about Islam.
“I think it's really important to talk openly about that. I'm committed to trying to, to close some of those big knowledge gaps that we have,” she said.