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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

UAE's gender journey: from five female graduates a year to 50,000 businesswomen

Women are now in boardrooms and the cabinet

The UAE has come a long way in gender equality since its establishment in 1971 when there were only 45 university graduates at the time, five of which were women.

Today, the country has witnessed the highest female enrolment from high school to university in its history, at 95 per cent, and 70 per cent of female university graduates, including 56 per cent from science, technology and maths degrees.

“Prosperity and peace have always been a strong link with gender balance,” said Mona Al Marri, vice president of the UAE Gender Balance Council.

“The participation of women in all spheres – political, economic and even social - is critical for their empowerment which in turn is vital for sustainable development and peace. The UAE has set a great example.”

The country ranks first in the GCC in gender equality and it was the first Arab country to introduce a mandatory law when it comes to women representation in boardrooms in both the government and private sectors. “The concept of women empowerment is part of our culture,” Ms Al Marri said.

“It’s been set a long time ago and the status of women has been flourishing in parallel with the rapid growth of the country since its formation in 1971. We have a great leadership with a great vision.”

Today, women in the UAE represent 46.6 per cent of the labour market and 66 per cent working in the public sector.

More than 53,000 Emirati businesswomen are registered running an investment worth more than $15 billion.

“The government and leadership never stopped thinking of where to go next,” she said. “We established this council to acknowledge the importance of gender balance in UAE, to strengthen the institutional capacity and to ensure adequate gender-based policies within the UAE economic plan.”

But more needs to be done globally as the phenomenon of women in peace and security has been regressing around the world. Many are said to still believe it is a women’s agenda rather than inclusive of all genders.

But experts hope to attract young people and members of the more traditional security community to discuss vital issues on how to advance gender equality and its impact on international and national security.

“I wish more countries would take the commitment of gender equality as seriously as does the UAE,” said Dr Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, president of Women in International Security.

“Because it is seen as a women’s agenda, for many it is a marginal agenda and not a priority.

"For many states, because it’s a women’s agenda, it’s too often seen as an option so we want to underscore that it’s about gender equality, the importance of understanding gender perspectives, gender dimensions and how these affect international security as well as national security.”

Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, chairwoman of the General Women’s Union, which co-hosted the conference along with Abu Dhabi think tank Trends Research and Advisory, hopes the summit will generate specific recommendations.

“The international community think we are just part of this troubled region with conflicts and it’s all about war and issues,” Ms Al Marri added.

“But the UAE has really set a model for hope, prosperity, peace and tolerance. We want to lead such concepts like women’s empowerment around the world but we need to build a proper strategy for women’s empowerment – the voice of women is very important in regulation and legislation to make a difference in the future for generations to come.”

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