Women in the UAE have achieved a lot in 50 years

From the government to the military, to the fields of arts and culture, economy, women have led the way

Emirati women wave the UAE flag during the celebration of the 50th UAE National Day during EXPO 2020 Dubai in Dubai, December 2. EPA

In 50 short years, the UAE has experienced its birth as a nation and its transformation into a global powerhouse of economic, cultural and diplomatic might. As a young country with a future-oriented vision, the UAE set a direction for its people with an emphasis on progressive values and equal opportunity from the very beginning.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the country’s treatment of women as equal partners. While remaining anchored in its early traditions of respect for women’s contributions to society and with an eye on the future, the UAE is determined to ensure that women continue to make monumental strides.

This year, as the international community comes together to commemorate Human Rights Day on Friday, we must take a moment to recognise how far we have come and envision a world in which women lead the way in achieving further progress and prosperity.

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Besides equal pay for women, non-discrimination against pregnant employees, and standard maternity leave, the UAE has put in place laws that safeguard women’s personal status freedoms

Since the country’s founding in 1971, the Government has fully supported women’s empowerment.

The UAE is a dynamic, modern society where women participate meaningfully in every facet of social and political life. Under the Constitution, women enjoy the same legal status, claim to titles, access to education, the right to practice professions, and the right to inherit property as men.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is given a tour of Expo 2020 Dubai by Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth (C-L) and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs in Dubai, on December 8. AFP

Due to the support offered by Sheikha Fatima, Chairwoman of the General Women's Union, women’s voices have historically been included in decision-making at all levels of government and civil society.

It is little surprise then that in the UAE, women constitute 29 per cent of ministerial positions, one of the highest proportions in the Middle East. Women also comprise 50 per cent of the Federal National Council, the UAE’s consultative parliamentary body, and make up nearly 50 per cent of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation’s employees. Without exception, women have been leaders in key sectors, from government to military, arts and culture, economy, and more.

Consider the UAE’s space sector, for example. As the nation evolves into a major contributor to the global scientific community’s understanding of space, it has prioritised women’s important advancements in this field. In fact, 34 per cent of the Emirates Mars Mission team was comprised of women who helped the UAE launch its historic Hope Probe. Women even comprised 70 per cent of the team behind the UAE Astronaut Programme, which produced the country’s first astronaut.

And while the UAE’s female scientists, engineers, economists, diplomats and officials have left an impressive record of achievements on the international stage, one must look back to understand the source of their empowerment.

In addition to regulations that guarantee equal pay for women, non-discrimination against pregnant employees, and standard maternity leave, the UAE has put in place laws that safeguard women’s personal status freedoms. Recent legal reforms have advanced women’s rights in the UAE by enshrining protections concerning divorce, separation and the division of assets, all the while stipulating more severe penalties for assault and harassment. In the latest round of reforms announced this November, women will receive greater protection through the ratification of a Federal Crime and Punishment Law that will improve public safety and security.

All of these facts tell a story of which we as women are proud: the UAE now leads regional indices of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Ranked first in the Arab world in the UN Development Programme’s 2020 Gender Equality Index, the UAE recently claimed the first spot as the safest country for women in Georgetown University's Women, Peace and Security Index. While the index noted women surveyed said that they felt safe walking alone in their neighbourhoods at night in the UAE, the report indicates something far more significant: where women feel safe and secure, they are free to live productive, healthy and fulfilling lives to their greatest potential.

Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister of State for International Co-operation and director general of Expo 2020 Dubai, during the inauguration of the Women's Pavilion inauguration at Al Wasl, Expo 2020 Dubai. Photo: Expo 2020 Dubai

That’s why with the historic opening of Expo 2020 Dubai, the UAE was honoured to showcase the first Women’s Pavilion in celebration of the positive impact women continue to make on the world. Nestled among 200 pavilions representing 192 countries and other entities, the Women’s Pavilion brings together the powerful narratives of female change-makers who continue to inspire women and girls throughout history.

Here, visitors will learn about global initiatives and solutions by women in their efforts to create a better world. Beyond uplifting women, the Women’s Pavilion offers a unique space to hold meaningful discussions on women’s visions for a future in which they overcome challenges and support others in achieving their dreams.

And it is that very idea – supporting women across time, cultures, and borders – that has underpinned the UAE’s approach to empowering women. The UAE fundamentally recognises how international partnerships strengthen efforts to ensure women’s voices are included.

Abu Dhabi’s dedicated women’s college for petroleum engineering at the Petroleum Institute and its MIT-affiliated clean technology university, the Masdar Institute. Delores Johnson / The National

In 2016, the UAE opened a regional office for UN Women in Abu Dhabi, the first in the region. It has donated about $26 million to the organisation since its founding in 2010 and ranked first in the Arab world in contribution last year.

Through this partnership, the UAE and UN Women launched the Women, Peace and Security Training Programme at the Khawla bint Al Azwar Military Academy for women from developing countries to train and serve as peacekeepers.

As we have discovered in recent decades, involving women and girls in civil society and government is essential to shaping peaceful societies that are more resilient to conflict and instability.

Lana Nusseibeh, centre, the UAE’s permanent representative to the UN. Wam

That’s why in 2018, the UAE launched its 100 per cent women policy, which resolved that by 2021, the UAE’s foreign assistance policy would commit up to 100 per cent to bilateral and multilateral international development investments to either target or integrate gender mainstreaming and the empowerment of women and girls.

The UAE’s intersectional approach to women’s empowerment, one that recognises the importance of solutions tailored to the local context, has made the UAE a valuable partner on the international stage to developing countries.

While serving on the UN Security Council, to which the UAE was recently elected for the 2022-2023 term, the UAE will continue to advocate for the world’s most vulnerable and identify innovative ways to empower all community members – particularly women and girls – worldwide.

As we celebrate our Golden Jubilee as a country, we are immensely proud of the progress we have made over the past five decades.

A mere 50 years ago, the UAE was born from the idea that a young country championing equality and tolerance could thrive and become a model to be emulated in the region. Imagine, then, what the world may look like in the next 50 years, when the UAE – as an active and engaged member of the international community – works tirelessly to ensure that all women are free to fulfil their greatest aspirations.

Published: December 10th 2021, 4:00 AM
Afra Al Hameli

Afra Al Hameli

Afra Al Hameli is the deputy director of the strategic communications department at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation