The United Nations’ sustainable development goals were developed to achieve, within the next decade, better living conditions for all. Importantly, in this list, gender equality is in the top five.
The significance of female empowerment and gender balance cannot be overstated. It is well understood here in the UAE, which leads the wider region when it comes to women in work, policy, government, culture – indeed, in all aspects of public life.
Ahead of the two-day Global Women’s Forum in Dubai, Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed, president of the UAE Gender Balance Council, spoke of the country’s progress. “The UAE has been at the forefront of women’s empowerment in the region and made outstanding progress in reducing the gender gap, achievements that have helped significantly raise the country’s rankings in global gender balance indicators.”
Women in the UAE occupy 44 per cent of leadership roles in federal government entities – a more substantive and healthier composite than many parliaments in older nations of the Western world. Strikingly, women in the UAE comprise 66 per cent of public sector workers and nor are those the last of the figures that signal cohesive development.
The women’s forum is then an important measure of how central a global gender balance is to the country’s vision of itself in the future. To enable the international community to come together and talk about big issues and form solutions is fitting for a country that has an already-impressive global stature in gender metrics.
Hosted by the UAE, the scope of the forum – drawing more than 3,000 delegates from 87 countries – is a matter of esteem. The calibre of the panel discussions and the intellectual heft of speakers and the ideas subsequently generated could frame policy in key sectors.
There are discussions slated on equality in the energy sector, empowering women entrepreneurs, and among a host of other topics, the role of social media networks. The theme, the power of influence, carries weight across disciplines.
That the country is hosting for the second time a forum of such importance highlights its commitment to being a frontrunner in the gender equality goals in not just the Arab World. Mona Al Marri, vice president of the UAE Gender Balance Council, told The National that the country was pushing to have longer maternity leave but that to achieve true gender equality, there needs to also be a push for an increase in paternity leave. In 2018, a law ensuring women are paid an equal wage to their male colleagues was approved by the UAE Cabinet.
The UAE is on track to implement several policies to help achieve its target of ranking among the world’s top 25 countries in gender balance by next year. Another sliver from the fact sheet that gauges the speed of the nation’s progress is that women represent 46.6 per cent of the workforce in the UAE, compared to 2.2 per cent in 1975. Not least of gender balancing measures is that today Emirati women represent 30 per cent of the UAE’s diplomatic corps.
It is a matter of immense pride for residents and citizens alike that women occupy top government positions, lead businesses and are indispensable to shaping the course of the country. It is only fitting that, as it hosts a high-profile forum, it should have such milestones under its belt. Credit for this is due to the foresight of the country’s founders in giving impetus to women’s rights. It is because of the work done by yesterday and today’s UAE leaders that young women can envision an equal footing and a dynamic future for themselves.