Eighteen years ago, the UAE made a commitment to women, girls and the world. That year, the country became a signatory to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
With the ratification of CEDAW, the UAE codified many existing protections in place for women in the country, all the while doubling down on its aim to further close the gender gap.
CEDAW, widely considered the most important global treaty in advancing women’s rights, has been ratified by 189 states to date. The UAE saw in CEDAW an opportunity to join forces with its many international partners in sending a message of solidarity to all women of the world and a promise that their freedoms and rights – political, economic, civil and social – are a priority in policymaking.
This week, the UAE had the distinct honour of presenting these achievements to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in Geneva. Our delegation, comprised of nearly 30 senior UAE Government officials, briefed the committee’s 23 independent experts on the tangible progress made during the latest four-year reporting period.
That period was indeed remarkable. Between 2019 to 2021 alone, the UAE issued 11 laws and legislative amendments, all of which were focused on promoting women’s rights and empowering them in all fields while involving them in the Emirates’ 50-year strategy.
Foremost among the achievements that we discussed were legal reforms announced in 2021, wherein the government ratified a new and updated Federal Crime and Punishment Law to enhance protections for women and domestic workers while strengthening public safety and security.
Already, the UAE tops international rankings for women’s safety. In the Georgetown University Women, Peace and Security Index 2021, the country ranked the highest in the "Perception of Community Safety" category, scoring 98.5 per cent.
Now, laws in the UAE stipulate life imprisonment for the crime of rape and address indecent assault with imprisonment or a fine of no less than Dh10,000 (about $2,700) regardless of the victim’s gender. In 2019, the government issued a law on protection from domestic violence, reaffirming that women must first feel safe at home in order to actively participate in society.
In 2015, authorities included the grounds of sex and gender into their definition of discrimination in their anti-discrimination law, and the UAE Gender Balance Council was established that year with the aim of reducing the gender gap in all sectors. For most, however, this was merely a formality, as under the UAE Constitution, women enjoy the same legal status, claim to titles, access to education, the right to practise professions, and the right to inherit property as men.
The results of these laws over the years have been profound: from boardrooms to government offices and laboratories to launchpads, women have been at the forefront of many of the country’s crowning achievements. Now, nine women – including myself – constitute nearly one-third of ministerial positions, one of the highest proportions in the Middle East. Even more heartening, 50 per cent of the members of the Federal National Council, the UAE’s consultative parliamentary body, are women.
This representation is no coincidence: rather, it represents the significant investment of the government in the country’s women, including through targeted education and employment initiatives. It is little surprise that 77 per cent of Emirati women enrol in higher education after secondary school, and 56 per cent of UAE university graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are women. It was a genuine moment of pride and historic milestone when the UAE became the first Arab nation to send a probe to Mars in 2021, where 80 per cent of women made up the Emirates Mars Mission science team.
In Geneva, committee members also heard our delegation discuss women’s economic empowerment. We were proud to share that the number of licensed companies owned by women has reached 80,025, with more than 32,000 businesswomen managing projects valued at more than $10 billion. International indices attest to this, as the UAE was ranked first in the Mena region in the “Women, Business and the Law 2021” report issued by the World Bank.
These are all achievements that continue to inspire our people to reach for more. Yet, the UAE has never been satisfied with advancing the rights of those only within our borders, as women and girls in need around the globe are also our priority.
The government has centred women's issues in its foreign aid policy, as well as worked tirelessly to fulfil the UN Sustainable Development Goals by championing gender equality, empowerment, and the protection of women and girls in its aid and relief projects.
In 2019 alone, our foreign aid to empower women and girls reached nearly $851 million (10.7 per cent of the UAE's total foreign assistance). Our country has long recognised that women cannot thrive unless they experience security, safety and stability, and so the government continuously invests in the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda both nationally and globally. Women are central to peacekeeping and conflict resolution programmes, which is why the UAE was honoured to launch the Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak initiative to empower women in the field of peace and security. In parallel, the country advocates for critical financing to fund the WPS agenda and committed a three-year contribution of $15m to UN Women in 2019. At the time of the pledge, the UAE encouraged UN Women to dedicate a portion of these funds to the global WPS agenda.
Where women grow and succeed, so do our communities. We as a society cannot advance without the accomplishments of the incredible women who continue to serve our country on the global stage in all fields. They are policymakers, aspiring astronauts, humanitarians, artists and so much more. Above all this, they are concerned with ensuring their sisters around the world enjoy the same opportunities for prosperity and growth.
It is our sincere hope that the panel of experts with whom we met on the committee in Geneva were encouraged to hear about the immense progress the UAE has made in recent years. As an unwavering champion of international co-operation and multilateralism, our country deeply values its consultations with international partners in identifying areas of further advancement. We will take these lessons to heart and home with us, where women are the ultimate beneficiaries of policies that continue to lift them up to their greatest potential.