Gender balance has been one of the UAE's core aspirations since the foundation of the nation nearly 50 years ago. On this Emirati Women's Day, we can look back proudly at how far we have come. Today, women are integral to our burgeoning public sector, energy sector and government. And yet, we all know that the work is not yet done.
I have been immensely proud to witness a raft of young Emirati women breaking barriers to lead the country and the region towards a new era of modernisation. Whether they have been pioneers in the renewable energy space and or strong female leaders in Emirati diplomacy, our women are presenting the UAE to the wider world as an open, fair and globally competitive economy founded on the virtues of endeavour and ambition.
While we may have become a regional and even global leader in female participation and representation, we must continue to involve more women in the work we do at home and abroad. The critical thinking, agility and, ultimately, the success of our public offices, our economic diversification and the efficiency of our renewable energy projects depend on it.
There is no doubt that the UAE has made giant leaps in recent years. In the public sector, government employment for Emirati women stood at 11.6 per cent in 1995. Today, women hold 66 per cent of government jobs and 33 per cent of leadership positions. What’s more, the UAE’s Federal National Council holds 20 female elected representatives – the same number as male elected representatives. The 50-50 split has seen the UAE rise to the top of the female parliamentary representation index of the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2020.
Gender balance was important to the UAE’s Founding Father. Sheikh Zayed strongly believed that true progress can only be achieved when we empower women. He described the women of the UAE as the “makers of generations”.
This vision has also been central to the seminal work of Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the Mother of the Nation, who is also chairwoman of the General Women's Union. A major force in the formation of the first women’s organisation in the UAE, Sheikha Fatima has provided female Emiratis with a model of strength, ambition and determination that they can aspire to through her efforts to empower and enable young women across the country.
Today, this vision is becoming a reality. We have 10 female cabinet ministers responsible for some of the country’s most critical and progressive government portfolios. We have a UAE Gender Balance Council. And women are leading in vital sectors outside government. For instance, the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi is led by two women. Adnoc has three female chief executives in its leadership mix. And we have a female chairperson of the Emirates Environmental Group.
With this dynamic mix of female leaders at the top of a range of industries and sectors, it has become self-evident that a country’s national competitiveness correlates strongly with various metrics of gender equality. Investing in women enhances productivity, recruitment and retention, and it creates a more inclusive work environment.
Nowhere is this more important than in the renewable energy space, in which I work, and which continues to drive great change and progress from within the UAE. The gender equality that globally competitive nations strive for today should not fall short in the renewable energy sector simply because it is a traditionally male-dominated field. Rather, this should remind us that renewable energy is an industry that seeks urgent realignment and reassessment. Little progress will be achieved by resting on the laurels of outdated and even repressive traditions.
We have seen across the world how a more prominent role for women has led to great community involvement. Moreover, we have seen how greater female involvement in the labour force can advance a low-carbon, sustainable industry and facilitate social changes that advance their standing in societies, such as we have seen with some of UN Women’s projects in Tanzania, Guatemala and other developing countries in their pursuit of the fifth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG): gender equality.
This should come as no surprise. And when we consider the drastic changes in mindset and action needed to get the world on track to reach not only the UN’s SDGs, but also the global warming goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement, a diversity of well-informed, analytical minds from an array of backgrounds is critical to overcoming what is perhaps our greatest existential challenge ever: that of turning the tide on climate change and transitioning to a green energy future.
There is nothing inherently masculine or feminine about either of these imminent challenges. The planet will not respond differently to solutions pioneered by either gender; it will only recognise and respond to the momentous shifts in human behaviour and consumption habits required to keep our earth breathing long into the future. And the gender mix of the people making the decisions, which can affect these changes in behaviour and consumption, should reflect this truth.
For us in the UAE, pushing the envelope for greater female representation in industry is not simply the right thing to do, from a gender equality perspective, it is about being able to meet the categorical imperatives of a planet crying out for sustainable solutions. As we forge ahead with our plans to meet the UAE’s Energy Strategy 2050, the UN’s SDGs and the Paris Agreement, I can guarantee you that women will be instrumental in our success.
Dr Nawal Al-Hosany is a permanent representative of the UAE to the International Renewable Energy Agency