ABU DHABI // The UAE is ranked first in the GCC region when it comes to gender equality, thanks to its investment in education and success in health, political and economic participation.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2013, published on Friday by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum, the UAE leads the way in the MENA region with the narrowest gender gap, state news agency Wam reported.
“It’s a metric that people probably haven’t tracked so much because they tend to focus on fees, enrolment growth and types of institutions entering the country,” said Ashwin Assomull, a partner in international education practice at The Parthenon Group, which carries out educational surveys. “But it’s another validation that what’s happening in the UAE is the right thing.”
The eighth annual GGGR ranks 136 countries on their ability to close the gender gap in several areas, including economic participation and opportunity, political empowerment, health and survival, educational attainment, political participation and economic equality.
“In the UAE, regardless of gender, you’re being provided with education choices to achieve what you want,” Mr Assomull said. “We can see that schools that come into the market are producing results that are independent of gender, which is important for the way that people outside the region may view it.”
The report ranked the UAE as the highest-placed country in the region with regards to achieving parity in education.
“One of the byproducts of what regulators in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have done is that there is enough choice and quality to deliver education that is gender neutral,” said Mr Assomull. “The girls are getting as good as the boys in education and it’s very important for people outside the region to understand this data point because, sometimes, foreign commentators will group countries within the GCC together and make general sweeping comments that there’s no gender equality. This data shows that it’s clearly not the case.”
The report also mentioned that most countries in the region, including Bahrain (112th), Qatar (115th) and others, were still “failing to adequately capitalise on the investments in education through greater economic and political contributions from women.”
Ralph Tebberer, the chief executive of the UK management and consulting services company Better Broader Deeper Education, said the UAE was taking advantage of more liberal attitudes to girls’ education compared with some other Arabian Gulf states.
“But it still has to do the hard work,” he said. “If you consider just how much a country like Saudi Arabia has to spend on finding jobs for women because they don’t have the same school opportunities as they would receive in the UAE, you begin to see the economic advantages as well as the social gains. This is a real signal that the UAE’s educational strategies are heading in the right direction.”
Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the President of the Dubai Woman Establishment, said: “Through the efforts of institutions such as the General Women’s Union and the Dubai Women Establishment, our wise leadership has built the ideal conditions for the empowerment of our women, through the implementation of policies and concepts that have contributed to raising the status of women, which helped them to succeed in various sectors.”
According to the report, the world’s gender gaps narrowed slightly in 2013 thanks to universal improvements in economic equality and political participation between the sexes.
“Gender equality in the region remains an issue, but I hope other countries will take a lead from the UAE’s success,” said Mark Atkins, the head of academics and education at Evolvence Knowledge Investments, a private school operator.
“It is very important to have reached this rank because it sends a message to all the citizens of the UAE that they are valued and can expect their potential to be developed regardless of gender, so that they can make a contribution to the success of society. I have long believed the UAE to be leading the way in the Mena region in education, and this latest report offers further evidence of success in this area.”