The recent European Parliament resolution about the UAE got it wrong on a number of fronts. It lacked objectivity and risked undermining the European Union's reputation for fairness. No more did it get it wrong than on women's rights.
Women have been an integral part of the UAE's and wider region's economies and societies for a very long time. In fact, in some areas, UAE and Arab women in general fair better than their European counterparts, even if judged on European standards.
Here are some examples. Of the United Kingdom's top 100 companies listed on the FTSE 100, only two are run by women. In the UAE, Noura Al Kaabi is the chief executive of twofour54, the Abu Dhabi world-class media hub. Dubai's Raja Easa Al Gurg runs a private conglomerate employing thousands of men and women in construction, industrial, property and other sectors. Amina Al Rustamani is the chief executive of Tecom Business Park, where hundreds of companies operate in the nine free zones under Tecom's umbrella, including Dubai Media City and Dubai Internet City. Salma Hareb is the chief executive of Dubai's Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority, one of the world's busiest free zones.
There are dozens of highly acclaimed female journalists and media personalities living and working in the UAE. In banking and finance and farther afield, Sheikha Al Bahar is the chief executive at the National Bank of Kuwait, one of the region's largest banks. Saudi Arabia's Lubna Olayan is the chief executive of one of Saudi Arabia's largest conglomerates. At the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange, 43 per cent of the investors are women. The list of women in business is endless.
Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi is another shining example of women in leadership, being the government minister responsible for UAE foreign trade and one of four women cabinet ministers. Women constitute more than 22 per cent of the country's legislature, the Federal National Council, compared with just over 12 per cent of the French parliament, for example.
Women in business and politics in the UAE and the region are not only in leadership positions. The UAE in particular has made great strides to ensure women are offered the same, if not better, opportunities than men in multiple sectors and at different levels.
Strata Manufacturing, a cutting-edge company owned by Mubadala Aerospace and located in Al Ain, manufactures aircraft parts that are used by Airbus and Boeing on their commercial jets. In fact, Strata is expected to be the sole supplier of vertical tail fins for the US-built Boeing 787 Dreamliner by the end of the decade and on the European-built Airbus A330s and soon on A380s, against tough competition from Europe, North America, Japan and South Korea. What the European legislators may not have been aware of is that more than 80 per cent of the Emirati workforce at Strata are Emirati women. It is common to find women, both Emirati and expatriate, working in public and private sector roles, whether at immigration desks at airports, in banks, granting building permits at municipalities or managing construction projects.
According to the Dubai Business Women Council, UAE women account for 59 per cent of the national UAE labour force in fields as diverse as engineering, science, health care, media, computer technology, law, commerce, university lecturers, government and the oil industry. The UAE also has the region's largest number of businesswomen.
In education, 77 per cent of UAE women continue to higher education. This compares with about 51 per cent of British women. The UAE leadership and society are proactive in providing women with the opportunity to be productive players in the job market and in economic development.
Promoting and protecting the rights of women in employment stems from the UAE's Arab and Muslim heritage. Prophet Mohammed's wife Khadija, regarded by many Muslims, as a "Mother of the Believers" was an active and highly successful businesswomen involved in trade. The UAE has continued in the tradition of empowering women through providing education and employment opportunities. The country's economic diversification relies on the participation of women and therefore needs no encouragement to provide those opportunities.
If a woman prefers not to pursue employment, it is because of more favourable socio-economic conditions rather than because of a lack of opportunity or unfavourable laws or lack of opportunities.
Women in the UAE, both nationals and expatriates, are a highly significant part of the country's workforce and contribute enormously to the country's economy. They are not so because of patronage, but because the UAE leadership and society have rightly acknowledged the role of women in the economy and in creating equal employment opportunities. For women to thrive in business, the UAE is certainly one of the best places in the world to be.
Ghanem Nuseibeh is the founder of Cornerstone Global Associates and a senior visiting fellow at King's College London