Former FNC member from Umm Al Quwain Sheikha Eissa Al Ari addresses the council during an FNC session. Silvia Razgova / The National
Former FNC member from Umm Al Quwain Sheikha Eissa Al Ari addresses the council during an FNC session. Silvia Razgova / The National

Women elected to FNC must step up and be strong voices

The call went out and the nation’s women answered.

Now they have to be elected and they have to make themselves heard.

Last month, Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for FNC Affairs and Chairman of the National Election Committee, said women taking part in the elections strengthened the approach adopted by the country’s leadership.

And Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed Al Maktoum, President of the Gender Balance Council, urged women to take part.

Almost a quarter of the final list of candidates – 76 of 329 – are women. While they have previously been involved in FNC elections, they never seem to rally enough support to win a seat. In the past two elections only one woman has won a seat each time.

In both, the elected woman was joined by appointed female members. In 2006, Dr Amal Al Qubaisi was joined by eight others, while in 2011 Dr Sheikha Al Ari was joined by six.

Dr Gargash believes this inability to win is because of votes being scattered too thinly, with few women able to gain united support.

But it has become evident that the presence of strong female role models is vital. The council has made decisions in recent years that have not given enough consideration to women’s rights and have been met with unhappiness in some quarters.

One of these was the inclusion of a breastfeeding clause in the Child Rights law. Lawyers and the Minister of Social Affairs, Mariam Al Roumi, agreed that making such a personal matter mandatory could result in men abusing the clause and prosecuting their wives for bottle feeding.

When this made headlines last year, many women took to social media to express their opinion. Also last year, member Ahmed Al Amash, of Ras Al Khaimah, argued to a minister that spinsters were burdening the country's finances.

Mr Al Amash said that because men could not afford to marry more than one woman, there was a rising number of unmarried women whom he claimed were costing the country and were not being productive.

Single and divorced Emirati women were baffled by Mr Al Amash’s comments and took to social media to express their views.

Most recently, Ahmed Al Shamsi, of Ajman, this year argued that foreign wives of Emiratis should not be granted child custody in the event of divorce, to protect the child's national identity.

The remark neglected any notion that the mother’s heritage was an equally important part of the child’s identity.

It also ignored the fact that in abuse cases, judges grant custody on a case-by-case basis.

Foreign wives of Emiratis spoke up to defend their rights.

But, despite these controversies, there have also been times when male members have stood up for women’s rights in the council.

These included debates to grant women greater rights, including early retirement, an increase in social benefits and helping those abandoned by their husbands.

But none of these debates led to any pledges for future reforms by ministers.

Although support from male members is welcome, there is a need for strong Emirati women on the council to fully represent their gender’s interests.

Ola Salem is a freelance journalist and a former political correspondent for The National.

Three tips from La Perle's performers

1 The kind of water athletes drink is important. Gwilym Hooson, a 28-year-old British performer who is currently recovering from knee surgery, found that out when the company was still in Studio City, training for 12 hours a day. “The physio team was like: ‘Why is everyone getting cramps?’ And then they realised we had to add salt and sugar to the water,” he says.

2 A little chocolate is a good thing. “It’s emergency energy,” says Craig Paul Smith, La Perle’s head coach and former Cirque du Soleil performer, gesturing to an almost-empty open box of mini chocolate bars on his desk backstage.

3 Take chances, says Young, who has worked all over the world, including most recently at Dragone’s show in China. “Every time we go out of our comfort zone, we learn a lot about ourselves,” she says.

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