x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Changing law may be costing women time off

Thousands may be missing out on holidays or leave because they are not aware of their entitlements.

ABU DHABI // Many women are getting a raw deal because they are ignorant of their rights, according to a national support group. The General Women's Union (GWU) says even those who are aware of the law often do not know where to turn for help.

It is planning a campaign that will highlight both federal and local laws as they apply to women through a series of workshops and training sessions. The union also plans to instruct four female Emirati lawyers in helping women in their communities. "In our culture, women don't go to court and fight for their rights," said Mariam al Romaithi, project co-ordinator of the campaign. "They don't know what roads are open to them or what their rights are. We want to change that."

The union intended to explain the law, break it down, and show women how much they could benefit from understanding how it applied to them, she said. Even on relatively simple issues such as holiday entitlement or maternity leave, laws had changed and were changing, leaving many women in the dark. "We have so many laws that protect women's rights," Ms al Romaithi said. "These laws, for example those dealing with human resources and employment, are sometimes amended, usually through efforts made by the women's union.

"We want to make sure that the Emirati woman is aware of the details of the laws that concern her, and how they have recently changed. These laws are meant to help our women, so they need to be aware of their choices." The union is putting the finishing touches to its campaign, which begins in October, though it has not yet chosen a specific date. "We will divide the campaign into three sections of two months each," said Ms al Romaithi.

"A specific part of the Constitution will be tackled every two months. We will address labour law, personal status law, and civil service and human resources laws." A series of booklets will be produced to be distributed during the campaign. The booklets will summarise women's rights to alimony and custody, and address UN conventions on children's rights and discrimination against women. "We will be training Emirati female lawyers to reach out into their communities countrywide and raise awareness about women's rights to their peers and colleagues, and giving them these booklets will help," Ms al Romaithi said.

Although all women are welcome to attend the workshops, the union is targeting Emiratis in particular. "We will contact leading private sector companies and government associations in the seven emirates and ask them to nominate female, Emirati employees to attend our workshops," said Ms al Romaithi. "We will ask the women nominated to submit their CVs and tailor workshops to their needs." The campaign comes as part of a larger initiative to empower women, launched by Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, chairwoman of the GWU and President Family Development Foundation, through the National Strategy for the Advancement of Women in 2002.

Najla al Awais, who was trained as an engineer and works as a marketing executive, was impressed by the union's campaign. "I consider myself an educated women who is aware of the laws of her country. Still, I can't say I am aware of the specifics of the law when it comes to myself as a woman, and what I can demand or what is rightfully mine." Two students at Zayed University also believed that they could benefit. "For someone like myself, who will be joining the workforce soon, this is information that I need to have and it's not easy to just go find it myself," said Ohoud al Ishlah, an accountancy student.

Rowya al Khaalisi, who is studying communications and media, hoped that the campaign would target all sections of society. "This needs to be an ongoing effort to reach all Emiratis and make them aware of their rights in the home and in the workplace," she said. "Our Constitution protects the rights of women. All that's left is for our women to learn about our constitution." hkhalaf@thenational.ae