Encouraging women is just the beginning

Improving the ratio of women serving on the FNC requires early support and intervention

Dr Anwar Gargash wants women to be encouraged to stand for the FNC, but will that be enough? Delores Johnson / The National
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How to increase the number of women on bodies like the Federal National Council is hardly a challenge unique to this country. Representative chambers all over the world struggle to more closely resemble the demographics of the communities they serve, with theories on how to achieve that goal ranging from simple encouragement through to imposing quotas.

As The National reported yesterday, Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Minister of Federal National Council Affairs and Chairman of the National Election Commission, has urged all Emirati men to support their wives, sisters and female professional colleagues to stand for election. "I wish to see women who are aware and capable," he said, "and I hope to see the men behind them with support."

This support is important if the FNC is to become a more representative body when elections for its third session are held in October. On the current council, elected in 2011, only three of the 40 members are female despite women comprising 46 per cent of eligible voters. Fewer than one in five of the 468 candidates at that election were women.

One could question whether simply urging support for female candidates goes far enough in addressing this imbalance and whether something along the lines of mandating a certain minimum level of participation by women, such as has been the case for some political parties in Britain and Australia, is required.

Ideally, increased participation by women would occur in an organic way, in which well-qualified candidates would become known to the public and get voted in without any external interference by the election authorities. But the experience overseas suggests that this organic process occurs more rapidly with some level of gentle intervention.

Dr Gargash is right to highlight the need to encourage female candidates, but this needs to begin long before the point where they stand for the FNC. If more women obtain a solid grounding in what is involved in public life – for example, through service on less prominent entities – then more women will aspire to higher office. And as voters encounter highly competent female FNC members, they will be more likely to vote for others at the next election.