Global Women's Forum Dubai: UAE to get longer maternity and paternity leave soon

Mona Al Marri tells 'The National' that legislation is coming that will encourage more women to stay at work after having a baby

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The UAE will extend maternity and paternity leave to encourage more women to stay in work after having children, a top government official said on Sunday.

Mona Al Marri, vice president of the UAE Gender Balance Council, told The National that policies to allow flexible working hours and part-time work are also being drawn up.

"We succeeded in increasing the maternity leave from two to three months and that's a big step," she said, referring to an amendment made to Dubai Government's Human Resources Management Law in 2017.

“A woman employee gets three months' paid leave, followed by three months’ half-pay leave and then another three months of unpaid leave. As a package, it’s nine months.”

She said the council was studying legislation from Scandinavian countries –regarded as global leaders in gender equality – to provide inspiration for local laws.

“We want to have longer maternity leave and are pushing for more days to be added... to take care of newborns," said Ms Al Marri, speaking at the Global Women's Forum in Dubai on Sunday.

But to achieve true gender equality paternity leave also had to be extended, she said.

“Right now, [paternity leave] is only three days. We are pushing for longer paternity leave so that a father can spend more time with his baby.”

Ms Al Marri said it was not just a matter of importing legislation from abroad; rather the laws had to be customised to suit the UAE.

We want to have longer maternity leave and are pushing for more days to be added

“We don’t just bring a good model and try to enforce it here. It should be a home-grown initiative.”

Federal statistics showed a significant drop-off in women's participation in the workplace once they hit their thirties.

A report in 2017 showed 67 per cent of foreign residents and 58 per cent of women were employed in the 25-29 age group. That fell steadily through the thirties and was 56 per cent for residents and 43 per cent of Emiratis in the 45-49 age group.

The figures continue to drop to retirement, demonstrating how many women never return to work.

Ms Al Marri did not give an expected timeline for the extension of maternity and paternity leave, saying that it would not happen this year and would “take time”.

“Hopefully, it won’t be long given the speed at which the UAE government works but we need to evaluate all aspects before these policies are implemented.”

The UAE has taken great strides to encourage the retention of female staff in the workplace.

On-site childcare centres have allowed parents to bring their children into the office and ensure they are cared for while they work.

“We started this in 2006," Ms Al Marri said. "Any government department that has more than 50 employees with children less than 4 years should provide a nursery for children.

“This was also implemented in the private sector. The Dubai International Financial Centre, Tecom cluster and Emirates Towers have a community childcare centre for all tenants.”

The launch of the Women on Boards initiative in 2012 encouraged increased representation of women on the boards of directors in public and listed companies to 20 per cent this year.

In 2018, a law ensuring women are paid an equal wage to their male colleagues was approved by the UAE Cabinet.

But Ms Al Marri said the country’s greatest achievement in gender equality in recent times was ensuring women occupied half of the seats on the country’s Federal National Council.

“I would say giving equal seats to women in the Federal National Council has been a tremendous achievement. Honestly speaking, we were trying for 30 per cent of seats but getting an equal number was a big celebration for us.”

The move helped the UAE move up in regional and global rankings for gender equality – jumping 23 positions on UNDP Gender Inequality Index 2019 to occupy the 26th position globally. The UAE’s goal is to rank among the top 25 by next year.

“The council is working with the World Bank on policies that were raised during our meetings. We are also working with the International Monetary Fund on gender budgeting. There is a lot that is happening."