x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Politics retain a glass ceiling, say women

UAE women will be marginalised in the political process until society's attitudes change, female leaders say.

DUBAI // UAE women will be marginalised in the political process, despite having the Government's support, until society's attitudes change, female leaders and Federal National Council (FNC) members heard yesterday. Women's participation in senior political and decision-making roles is still being hampered by male prejudices, the meeting hosted by Dubai Women Establishment (DWE) heard. Some FNC and DWE members said there were men who felt threatened by successful women and actively tried to block them. However, the gathering, to discuss and encourage political participation by UAE women, also heard progress has been made with more senior roles in the fields of education, health, commerce and industry. And a UN report released in Geneva this week said the UAE was one of only three Arab countries to offer parity in schooling to boys and girls. "Some men in the community are afraid of women achieving success politically because women are becoming better educated, having more qualifications and are beginning to hold better jobs in business," said Rouaya Seif Sultan al Samahi, the Fujairah FNC member. "But to see us as leaders would make some men feel insecure and question their status in the community." Mrs Samahi, the chief executive in Fujairah Hospital and Fujairah Medical Zone from 1995-2007, described the Government support of women as excellent, but said more could be done to improve the general attitude of men in the community. Dr Aysha Mohammed Khalfan al Roumi, a member of the FNC's health, labour and social affairs department, said: "There are oppressive powers out there that don't want to see women become political leaders, while women are holding senior jobs, raising children and holding families together all at once in a male-dominated society, but at least we can acknowledge it and talk about it here." Dr Roumi said there were 12,000 entrepreneurial women in the business sector who ran 11,000 investment projects worth Dh12.5 billion, yet few women enter the political process. The education survey conducted by the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) found the UAE was "very close" to achieving UN education targets and said it was a model for Arab countries to follow. Kevin Watkins, who led the team behind the 2009 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, described the Emirates as a "regional success story" that nearby countries should emulate. "There is no question that political leadership and practical policy are making a very big difference for tens of thousands of girls," said Mr Watkins. "If you compare the opportunities available to this current generation of girls going against those available to their mothers and grandmothers, you are talking about a step change." The literacy rate was split relatively evenly across the genders, with 98 per cent of young men able to read and write compared with 96 per cent of young women, the survey found. This was projected to reach 100 per cent for young men and 98 per cent for young women by 2015. Female empowerment in the Emirates compared favourably against the region, where girls made up 61 per cent of schoolchildren who are denied education. "Those (UAE) numbers indicate it is possible to overcome these very deeply entrenched gender disparities which we know are significant and problematic across the region," Mr Watkins said. But the Unesco researcher warned that despite positive results this week, the Government could not afford to be complacent and should tackle the poor showing of women in the job market. The report referred to the latest figure from 2003 that showed women made up only 36 per cent of the country's labour force, which Mr Watkins attributed to different styles of education available to boys and girls. "You need to look at the interface between the education system and the employment system. Women do not receive equitable opportunities in employment markets. They are educated but generate a lower rate of return than equivalently educated boys." Women hold nine of the 40 FNC seats. The FNC has no legislative powers but plays an advisory role to Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the President of the UAE, the Supreme Council of Rulers and the Cabinet. According to the Government, women in the UAE occupy 66 per cent of public sector jobs. shafez@thenational.ae