International Women’s Day on Tuesday is designated by the United Nations to mark and celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world. It’s also a time to reflect on the progress that has been made in the advancement of women and an opportunity to look for ways to further promote that goal.
In the UAE, the leadership believes in promoting the role of women in society and all aspects of life. We have a good record in supporting and empowering women. Just last month, the number of women in the federal cabinet rose to eight, and there are many women in leadership positions in both government organisations and the private sector. Women make meaningful contributions in fields as diverse as Stem (sciences, technology, engineering and maths), the Federal National Council and the military.
But we still lag behind in the Global Gender Gap index compiled by the World Economic Forum, ranking 119 out of 145 in the latest report in 2015, even though we scored above the regional average across all subindexes except health and survival. We came first in the region on literacy rate and third on wage equality.
While we celebrate our regional achievements, we should also aim to compete on an international level. We need to make more effort to not just attract women to the workplace, but to retain them. We need to support not only women in leadership positions but women across all organisational levels.
One area the UAE should work on is the issue of paid maternity leave for mothers, since the number of women leaving the workforce after giving birth is still high. Currently, women are entitled by law to have a fully paid maternity leave of 60 days for government employees and 45 days for the private-sector employees after working at their company for at least one year. That compares poorly to the Nordic countries, where women can have as many as 420 days of maternity leave. We also need to provide more flexibility in workplace hours and more part-time job opportunities.
By supporting women, we support the whole of society.