Anwar Gargash: more legislation needed to close gender gap in UAE’s private sector

Senior official was speaking during an International Women’s Day forum held at Expo 2020 Dubai

Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Dr. Anwar Gargash, Diplomatic Advisor to the President of the UAE, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General, WTO and Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, UNFPA speak on Redefining the Future for Women on International women's day. Expo 2020, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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A senior Emirati official said that more legislation is needed to achieve gender equality in the UAE’s private sector.

Dr Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to President Sheikh Khalifa, said that women are not as equally represented in the private sector as they are in the public sector.

He was speaking at the Break the Bias forum held at Expo 2020 Dubai on Tuesday to mark International Women’s Day, which falls on March 8 each year.

Although [women] are represented in the private sector, they are not as represented in the same way, so we need to legislate that
Dr Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to President Sheikh Khalifa

He spoke on a panel alongside Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Dr Natalia Kanem from the United Nations Population Fund, and Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, director general of the World Trade Organisation.

“The UAE has been successful in breaking a lot of glass ceilings through this sort of activist agenda from day one,” Dr Gargash said.

“Now, I think we are in the process where we want to see more legislation in order to break new frontiers.

“Today, for example, women comprise 60 per cent of our federal government. Although they are represented in the private sector, they are not as represented in the same way, so we need to legislate that.”

Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh speaks on Redefining the Future for Women on International women's day. Expo 2020, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Last year, the Emirates set out plans to ensure that UAE citizens made up 10 per cent of the private sector workforce in the next five years.

A series of initiatives were launched to increase the number of Emirati private sector workers by 75,000 by 2026 as part of the Nafis programme.

He also highlighted how far the UAE has come when it comes to empowering women by shifting from a conservative society to one that enabled females.

The UAE’s ranking in the UN’s Gender-Equality Index has improved rapidly.

It ranked first in the Arab world in the UNDP's 2020 Gender-Equality Index and was named the top country for women's safety in the Women, Peace and Security Index 2021.

The country has passed several laws to close the gender gap and has achieved a literacy rate of 95.8 per cent among women.

It is also working on to get more women in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem), with 56 per cent of UAE government university students who graduated from Stem-related programmes.

Today, the UAE has a diplomatic corps that is 40 per cent women, Dr Gargash said. When Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed became Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, women would take a ministry job but would be hesitant to go abroad.

“This has changed, but how?" Dr Gargash said. "Again, I urge that we do have an activist agenda.

“It's a matter of leadership, and I think we are now in a place where we need to use our laws to legislate in areas that need to be legislated for women to be better represented on boards.

“For example, women today in the UAE are represented on corporate boards at 10 per cent. I think, for what we would like to see with the UAE, that is not good enough.”

Ms Hasina spoke of Bangladesh’s achievement, including how it has adopted a women development policy to create opportunities for women across sectors.

She is the longest-serving prime minister of Bangladesh, having served from 1996 to 2001 in her first term and was elected again in 2009 and 2019.

“To work against the biases and prejudices, we must give more equal education, healthcare, reproductive programmes and other programmes," she said.

“I think if you want to develop society, you should give them all of the opportunities so they can contribute and work.

Ms Hasina said her journey as Bangladesh’s first female prime minister, who wanted to close the gender gap, was not easy, as there were several assassination attempts against her.

Most of her family, including her father who was the founder of Bangladesh, were assassinated in 1975 during a coup.

“My journey was not very smooth. Time and time again, they tried to kill me through grenades and anti-propaganda,” she said.

“But, I didn’t care for that. I thought that I have to work for the people. As a woman, the problem is definitely there.

“But I do appreciate that our male colleagues co-operate with me, so that is my strength.”


Updated: March 08, 2022, 5:10 PM