Women are at the centre of Abu Dhabi’s overseas development agenda

One of our main goals is to achieve gender equality and ensure women's welfare in beneficiary countries

Hilal Bibi, age 90, makes clay pots at a workshop ahead of International Women's Day on the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan, this week. EPA

The UAE's golden jubilee last year was an opportunity to reflect on the country's achievements. Yet, those who did so probably would have realised how hard it is to count them numerically, just because there are too many of them. It might be comparatively easy to imagine what makes the UAE what it is today. Although there are still plenty to tax the brain, one critical element that has catalysed our progress is the cultural interconnectivity between generations, as well as between the leadership and citizenry.

The commonality of heritage is often reflected in our beliefs in the natural endorsement and appreciation of each other's actions and ideas, including gender perceptions. If we have achieved plenty in a relatively short time, it's largely because of our ability to uniformly accept and apply in every sphere of life the principles and ideas of our forefathers.

Rewind 50 years, and one wonders how a person from a rather unlikely region could have set women's education and empowerment as a prerequisite to achieving prosperity as a community and nation. The UAE's Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed, believed that to attain a holistic development, we must treat men and women as equal. The fascinating aspect about such ideas is that they were never forced upon people but infused in their psyche, just as a man would do to his child. As a result, these values and ideas are carried over from one generation to another.

A person from a rather unlikely region set women's empowerment as a prerequisite to achieving prosperity

When I look at Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, where women make up for more than 34 per cent of the workforce, I feel proud to have been able to maintain our distinctive legacy and implemented a shared vision and idea. Yet, our organisation is not unique in a country where women have been leading many public and private institutions and scientific research; actively debating issues of public concern, reviewing draft laws and representing their constituents at the Federal National Council; and representing the UAE abroad. In fact, women 50 per cent of the FNC is comprised of women.

However, we never intended to confine ourselves and our ideas within specific geographical boundaries, because our culture prompts us to share with the rest of the world all that we have, whether knowledge or material wealth. Thus, when we launched the renewable energy projects under the $50 million UAE-Caribbean Renewable Energy Fund (UAE-CREF), one of the main goals was to achieve gender equality and ensure women's welfare in the beneficiary countries. Today, the Fund has empowered a significant percentage of female populations through the creation of jobs in different Caribbean nations. It's a work in progress.

Meanwhile, in countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan, we have financed many small and medium enterprises, creating opportunities for women to work and contribute to their family incomes. Not to mention the many schools we have financed there to educate girls as part of our global socioeconomic development strategy. The value of these initiatives could not have been more conspicuous than it is in current times, when supplementary income is no longer a matter of choice, especially for low- and middle-income families.

Faces of UAE Women Exhibition on Al Ghayath Trail, Expo 2020 Dubai. Karim Bou Gebrayel for Expo 2020 Dubai

As proud as we are of our past, we do not want to rest on our laurels, but take lessons from them to create an even greater future for our country and the rest of the world. This was clear even when we were celebrating 50 years of our achievements with an eye on the future, setting our goals for the next 50 years.

Nevertheless, the path is complex, as opportunities and challenges for women continue to change in tandem with evolving requirements and necessities. Thus, on the one hand, growing areas such as green economies, climate change mitigation and technological advancements provide unprecedented opportunities for decent work for women. On the other hand, women still account for only 20 to 25 per cent of the workforce in the modern renewable energy sector, according to UN data. The existing gaps women face in accessing digital training, economic resources and decision-making, along with other barriers, mean that they are being left out of the fastest-growing industries.

The report further points out that globally there is a 12 per cent gender gap in internet use; in the world’s least developed countries, the gap widens to 31 per cent. But when women can leverage equal opportunities to thrive, they can make substantial contributions to societies and economies. For example, if the pace of women’s digital fluency is doubled, we could reach gender equality in the workplace much faster than the current prediction.

I believe the UAE is a perfect testbed to assess how one’s values and principles can help one to achieve one’s objectives, however lofty they are. I also trust that our ideals and principles will help us to help many countries to overcome barriers to attaining prosperity.

What we need are a clear objective and motivation. As an Emirati representing a national entity, I believe that a clear and honest intent and a positive and open perspective are all that make a difference between success and failure.

Published: March 08, 2022, 4:00 AM
Mohammed Saif Al Suwaidi

Mohammed Saif Al Suwaidi

Mohammed Saif Al Suwaidi is the director general of Abu Dhabi Fund for Development