x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Kate Adie reflects on women's progress

The veteran BBC war reporter Kate Adie spoke of the importance of being seen as a professional first and foremost, not a female, when doing her job, yet the point could really have referred to any profession.

Just last month as I was watching Iron Lady, the biopic of the life of Margaret Thatcher, Britain's first female prime minister, I began to reflect on just how far we've come in the UK since that day in 1979, when a provincially raised woman reached the highest echelons of power in a centuries-old tradition of male dominance. Coincidentally, I was born in that year, so I really began to think how the lives of the women born from that year on had really changed.

Yet as I began to think it through further, I realised there is still so much work to be done. Coming to the UAE as a journalist from the UK, we hail the achievements of women in the UAE, a pioneering country for the region, where females run their own businesses, sit on the Federal National Council and are treated with respect and dignity.

On reflection, I began to wonder if we really have come so far back home. This week, I listened to Kate Adie speaking at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature as she explored the topic of women in journalism. This veteran BBC war reporter was a childhood idol of mine. She spoke of the importance of being seen as a professional first and foremost, not a female, when doing her job, yet the point could really have referred to any profession.

Women in the developed world may get much greater access to equality than ever before but they still earn less than men in jobs they both do equally. In the legal profession, that has simply meant wages have gone down, as if women's greater participation now lowers its worth. As the higher education correspondent at The National, I began to ask where the female university chancellors or provosts in the UAE are, but then asked, where are they in the UK either? Statistics released in January by the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed that at the end of 2010, women made up fewer than 20 per cent of professors at UK universities.

The fact that we still revere the success of Baroness Thatcher and Adie not only stems from how big a stride they took in their time, but how many more strides women have yet to take.

I'm no ardent feminist, but growing up in a family where my parents would have supported me doing anything, whether that was my dream of becoming a journalist or becoming a plumber, economist or engineer, meant I never felt the walls of gender around me.

What I've realised is that the UAE, which is just 40 years old, has come so much further in a much shorter period of time, compared to the reality of more developed countries where there is much talk but not as much action. There are still only five women chief executives of FTSE 100 companies. As Adie said, race issues have been long swept away before gender issues, which are still the elephant in the room.

mswan@thenational.ae

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