Every year on August 28 we celebrate Emirati Women’s Day. The occasion holds significance throughout the UAE as an opportunity to recognise the many achievements made by the nation’s women. It also reminds the world of the meaningful steps the Emirates has taken with regard to women’s rights and gender equality since its formation nearly half a century ago. Perhaps most crucially, it encourages all Emiratis to build on the collective efforts of Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father, in creating the modern, diverse and meritocratic society that citizens and residents alike are proud to call home.
To honour this day, The National's Opinion pages this weekend focus exclusively on Emirati women – their aspirations, challenges, accomplishments and areas of continuing progress as the UAE lays out an ambitious social and economic agenda for the next 50 years of its modern history.
We share insights from dynamic women who have paved their own paths to success, thereby becoming role models to their compatriots, both female and male. Each individual has carved a niche for herself, and is thereby uniquely qualified to reflect upon the aforementioned themes in her respective field of expertise – whether it is in the boardroom, industry or government – while being able to look at the bigger picture of progress for women in this part of the world.
Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, chief executive at Alliances for Global Sustainability, points to Mariam Almheiri’s stellar work as the Minister of State for Food Security in building the UAE’s resilience at a time when global supply chains have been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dr Nawal Al-Hosany, permanent representative of the UAE to the International Renewable Energy Agency, gives us hard numbers to highlight the progress women have made in the public sector. And the numbers don’t lie – in 1995, government employment for Emirati women stood at 11.6 per cent; today, women hold 66 per cent of government jobs and 33 per cent of leadership positions. The Federal National Council, meanwhile, holds 20 female and 20 male elected representatives – topping the global ranking for women in parliament.
And Hend Al Otaiba, director of strategic communications at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, reminds us that half of her colleagues in the ministry are women.
Progress, of course, cannot be viewed through the prism of careers alone. It is important to recognise the oft-undocumented achievement of stay-at-home mothers in managing their households and solidifying society’s progress, especially at a time when the pandemic has interrupted the daily routines of their school-going children, who will shape the future of our country.
The question, then, is what the UAE might look like in 50 years' time. While it is impossible to predict fully, it is worth considering all the good work currently under way to build a model country for gender parity.
Efforts to bring about a balance in the workplace and more broadly throughout society are ongoing. Last year, for instance, a new harassment law was passed that would treat male and female victims equally. The UAE Gender Balance Council has promoted the idea of longer maternity leave – but also, to achieve true equality in the responsibilities of parenthood, an increase in paternity leave. In 2018, a law ensuring that women are paid an equal wage to their male colleagues was approved by the Cabinet.
Our contributors are hoping for more such initiatives in the future, calling for women to be given more seats at the table, whether it is inside companies at home, or global, multilateral organisations abroad. In doing so, they are helping to shape a better future for humankind.