More legislation on the way to improve the status of women in UAE

Industry experts say laws to encourage or enforce part-time work would be invaluable

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The UAE Gender Balance Council is working on new legislation which will improve the country’s global gender ranking and further enhance the status of women.

Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid, president of the UAE Gender Balance Council and wife of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, announced the news following the council's first meeting of this year on Tuesday.

It comes just days after the Cabinet approved a new wage equality law to ensure women are paid the same as men.

Sheikha Manal said the efforts of the UAE Gender Balance Council, in collaboration with related government entities, are consistent with its mandate to review and propose legislation to support equal opportunities and narrow the gender gap across all sectors.

The UAE was ranked first worldwide in three indicators in various global gender diversity reports from last year. It was first globally in ‘property rights between genders’ in the Prosperity Index by Legatum Institute; as well as ‘literacy rate’ in the Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum; and ‘secondary enrolment gender gap’ in the Human Capital Report by the World Economic Forum.

But it was ranked 120 overall out of 144 countries in the 2017 World Economic Forum's (Wef) Global Gender Gap Report, and languished even further towards the bottom of the list in a range of specific areas relating to the workforce.

They include 130th place for female economic participation; 129 for labour force participation; 134 for estimated earned income and 123 for professional and technical workers.


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“I don’t know how far the government is going to go because Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid wants us to be top 25 by 2021 in terms of gender diversity globally.  We are currently 124th. That’s a massive shift,” said Louise Karim – Managing Director Mums@Work, a specialised recruitment agency which connects employers with women seeking flexible work with employers.

The answer, she said, could be some sort of legislation or ruling to encourage or impose flexible or part time work.

“Because [currently] you are still working on a full time contract per se, as per the Ministry of Labour contract. That’s why people say it’s a very grey area.

“But if they brought in a part time contract and the government said it’s okay you can do this and promoted it, you could get a lot more women back to the workplace. And also a lot more Emirati women, because they are very keen to go back to work but they have a lot of family commitments, probably more than us expats do.”

David Mackenzie, managing director of Mackenzie Jones Group, one of the largest independent recruitment groups in the GCC, of which Mums@Work is part, says it no longer finds that companies discriminate between male or female employees. It is now diversity more broadly.

“What you will find is that some clients will say we do not want someone from Kerala. Or we do not want someone from Britain. We are getting that a lot. I had that the other day from a client when I got briefed,” he said.

“They said they didn’t want any British people. I asked, why not? They said we have too many of them. And when you have too many of one nationality the collective thinking becomes the same, to a degree.”