From proposing longer maternity leave to giving sons of Emirati mothers citizenship — the chambers of the Federal National Council have echoed with voices calling for the advancement of women’s affairs for years.
These calls grew progressively more powerful once women joined the FNC as members in 2007 and began speaking on issues from their own experiences.
The public have also recognised the value in electing a female member with a woman winning a sear in every election since 2006. The government also played its part by appointing a group of female members during the past three council formations.
“The presence of a woman in any arena is effective; there is a special flavour to every issue us seven (female members) discuss at the council,” said Naama Al Sharhan, the only woman to win a seat in the 2015 elections.
“And we have diverse specialities, so when each one of us handles an issue she handles it with expertise.
“The fact that our speaker is a woman too, energised the council, all the more activating the role of women and men alike without any obstacles, she is out main supporter,” said the member who represents Ras Al Khaimah.
Ms Al Sharhan believes her bravest moment was when she drilled the Minister of Education about concerns teachers had about extended working hours and insufficient training after his long-awaited presence in the council.
“I presented proof and evidence for my arguments and it was something that I had dug deep into, because I was advocating something that I can feel.”
Ms Al Sharhan comes from a long educational background, starting as a teacher, becoming a principal and then filling various posts at the Ministry of Education. The arguments she made during that debate are among her most significant roles in the council, she said.
Ahead of that debate, a video of her questioning why the minister had repeatedly failed to attend the session went viral — and she considers it another bold moment in her FNC career. Members of the education committee, which she chairs, had long been summoning him to attend to discuss concerns.
“I said ‘ministers are coming and going and until today he has not attended, and we worked for long on the issue’, people were touched by the video because many were waiting for this issue to be discussed (at the council).”
Another significant proposal, she said, was when she called for farmers to have more support from the government and that their produce not be drowned in the local market because of competitive produce from abroad.
Ms Al Sharhan believes she was elected by the public following her journey in the education sector, where she made it a priority to keep on top of people’s needs and concerns.
Holding dialogue sessions with women was another focal part of her campaign. “I held nine sessions for women all over Ras Al Khaimah, and this gave me a lot of power, because the woman is always influential within her family.”
When Azza bin Suleiman saw herself as fit for membership at the FNC, she ran for elections twice – once in 2011 and again in 2015. Despite losing both times, the government decided she was eligible for a seat in parliament and appointed her to represent Dubai member in 2015.
Since then she has become known for proactive proposals and questioning ministers.
Ms bin Suleiman also questioned the minister about amending a regulation that would allow fertilisation centres to freeze embryos. The Minister of Health and Prevention Abdulrahman Al Owais responded positively saying amendments to the 2008 law will be made soon.
The present law allows clinics to preserve only unfertilised egg cells, forcing fertilised ones to be disposed of.
As the head of the FNC committee for family, children and women affairs, she has three topics prepared for discussion once the FNC returns from recess. “Those include maternity leave, breast-feeding, working hours, and working from home,” she said.
“The committee will also discuss the role of the ministry of community development in family development and formation.”
She believes all the topics discussed at the FNC are connected to women in a way or another, “women are part of society, so every topic has to involve women.”
Former Dubai member Dr Mona Al Bahar remembers a critical issue she and her peers fought for at the council.
“We were discussing the antiterrorism law and there was a clause that said ‘if the attacked was a child, a person with a disability or a woman’, so they put women under the same classification, and we changed that clause for good.”
“We argued that there should be a clause specifically for women out of consideration for her physical nature only, and we made it happen.”
She said legislators do not always consider the connotations of small details “this is our role as FNC members.
“To raise the voice of women while legislating laws for a certain sector, because a woman is closer to the needs of other women, so we try hard to preserve her rights,” she said.
She said another significant accomplishment was chairing the International Parliament’s women section in 2015.
“The UAE won to chair the Arab women’s section and it was a great experience, I was there and many pressing issues were discussed.”
Dr Al Bahar was appointed by the government in the past term from 2011 to 2015.