Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

A woman's place is at the helm of national institutions

New initiative is latest step on the road to gender equality in the workplace

UAE Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, visiting the headquarters of the General Women’s Union. Dubai Media Office / Wam
UAE Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, visiting the headquarters of the General Women’s Union. Dubai Media Office / Wam

A woman’s place is not just at home – it is also in the judiciary, the diplomatic service and the boardroom. That is the unequivocal message delivered with the government’s latest package of measures to boost the number of women in the workplace and further propel the UAE towards its goal of providing equal opportunities for all. Unveiled by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, they set the wheels in motion for a society based on equal opportunities. The focus on diplomacy is no coincidence. Women are woefully under-represented in diplomatic roles around the world, and the UAE is determined to set an example. Already, 40 per cent of staff in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are women. With six out of every 10 graduates from the Emirates Diplomatic Academy female, the nation’s seven female ambassadors will soon be joined by many more.

But changes in legislation are one thing. A change in attitudes can take much longer. There will be some who fear for the future of the family unit and hark back to traditional views on gender roles. Such views, rooted in social mores that have prevailed for generations, should not be dismissed lightly but respected and addressed. Women must also be prepared for the new challenges ahead. Research among Emiratis in 2016 found that while men were generally supportive of women working, women often burdened themselves with traditional expectations. The answer, the researchers concluded, was to help women to maintain a healthy work-life balance by offering practical workplace support, such as creches and flexible hours. This approach is central to the government’s new package of policies and incentives. It recognises that many women are carers who can be enabled by the provision of practical support services, such as help with caring for the elderly at home, as well as psychological support.

Much has already been done to achieve equality. The number of Emirati women in the workplace has soared from a few hundred in 1975 to tens of thousands today. As a result, role models for young girls are everywhere, from the cockpit of an F-16 Fighting Falcon to the nine seats around the cabinet table occupied by women. The constitution enshrines equal rights, parity in pay is now a legal obligation and the Gender Balance Council is helping public and private sector organisations to narrow gender gaps and harness the untapped potential of women. Education is increasingly paying dividends. Twice as many women as men now achieve a degree and a young woman who has spent years studying will be hungry to put it to good use. Ultimately, achieving parity of opportunity for men and women is not only fair but in everyone’s best interest. As Sheikh Zayed famously said, the greatest asset of any country is its people. As this initiative makes clear, the UAE has no intention of squandering half of that precious resource.