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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 March 2019

International Women's Day will remain necessary until worldwide equality is achieved

In the UAE, women are encouraged to take an active and prominent role in business and wider society. This cannot be said for many other nations

"Women often bring empathy and a perspective that was lacking in previous business leadership model," writes Ahlam Bolooki
"Women often bring empathy and a perspective that was lacking in previous business leadership model," writes Ahlam Bolooki

At a recent social gathering, somebody started the “Why do we need a dedicated day for women when women should be celebrated every day?” debate with me. “Why should it be necessary, when women are represented in practically every walk of life,” they asked.

In an ideal world, I would totally agree with them. But, in reality, despite making up more than half of the population, many women around the world are still not given the opportunities taken for granted by many of us.

Their skills and talents are not acknowledged as valuable and equal to a man’s, their education is not considered a priority and even in the most forward-thinking societies, women are held back, passed over for promotion and sidelined. In most societies, women’s lifestyle choices are more heavily scrutinised, their voices less heard and their freedoms more limited. As long as that is the case, women need International Women’s Day, along with many other excuses to draw attention to all of those issues.

However, we can’t have these conversations in isolation. We need men to join in and empower women in their lives, rather than feel threatened by any shift in dynamics. Men traditionally have held the lion’s share of responsibility – being a man has meant being the protector of the family and the provider. Female empowerment means that the burden can be shared, and working together as a team is good for everyone. Work-life balance with a healthy family life should benefit men and women, which will help create a positive, fair and favourable future for our society.

I am very fortunate to have been handed the reins of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature by another woman – our CEO and founder, Isobel Abuhoul OBE. She is an inspiring example of a successful female entrepreneur, who shows that women in business don’t have to play by the same rules that have shaped the way traditional male business leaders have run their companies in the past.

Women often bring empathy and a perspective that was lacking in previous business leadership models. We have shown that we can still have a career while running homes and looking after families. This takes multi-tasking to an advanced level. It also means women are often spearheading the use of new technology, flexible working and creative partnerships. We are coming at business with fresh approaches that allow us to unlock our potential while working around any challenges we face.

Women and men in the same roles are paid equally in the UAE, which is still not the case in many progressive countries across the world

This is creating a more dynamic, entrepreneurial community. The impact on society is tremendous.

Women are not delicate creatures protected from reality. We are successful in every walk of life including traditionally male-dominated fields such as science, technology and engineering, and we have shown that we are more than capable of doing anything a man can. This is highlighted by several sessions at our Festival this week on incredible women who have changed the world, from the pioneering women of space travel, to the incredible Dana Alblooshi, who was just nine years old when she trained with Nasa in the US. We will be marking International Women’s Day – always a highlight for us – with a powerful panel discussion on the global movement for gender equality with author and journalist Dubai Abulhoul, Zelda la Grange – the former private secretary to Nelson Mandela – and journalist Katherine Ormerod, the founder of the anti-perfectionism platform Work Work Work.

But talking about empowerment is one thing, putting it into action is another. Emirati women have always been fortunate enough to be encouraged to play an important role in the development of our nation. Accordingly, women in the UAE have a responsibility to pave the way for other women in the region – and across the globe – who may not have the same advantages. The region is a vast mosaic of cultures, and no two are alike. Some have a long way still to go, and some are blazing a trail for others to follow.

Fifty million Muslim women have entered the global workforce in the past decade. Women are gaining autonomy and purchasing power, which is bringing change to society and all aspects of life in the region. Women and men in the same roles are paid equally in the UAE, which is still not the case in many progressive countries across the world.

Change is not always easy, but it is inevitable. The more we have the support of the incredible men by our side, the quicker our region can adapt to change, and accelerate the evolution of the Arab world towards gender equality for the benefit of both men and women. Perhaps only then will the celebration of International Women’s Day become a curious and unnecessary relic of a bygone age.

Ahlam Bolooki is festival director for Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

Updated: March 8, 2019 09:57 AM

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