x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

High expectations hold women back

Academics say low pay and family pressures are to blame for educated women holding out for more prestigious posts.

DUBAI // Social attitudes and family ideals need to change if women are to close the gender gap and contribute more effectively to the country's economic development, academics said at a conference in Dubai yesterday. The global financial crisis means the role of women in sectors such as education, health and politics is more important than ever, delegates at the Gender Equality and Economics in Middle East and North Africa conference were told. Dr Monica Gallant, a professor at Dubai Women's College, said although women were excelling in their studies, they were often hindered by their own and their family's unrealistic expectations of the job market.

"The jobs are out there and available, but the women themselves are rejecting them either because they feel the salary is not adequate for them, or because of family pressure, or because of prestige," she said. There is often considerable pressure from parents, who find it difficult to understand why their daughters, who had received university degrees and a better education than themselves, did not move straight into managerial positions. "Social attitudes and individual family ideas need to change," Dr Gallant said. "In addition, there needs to be a better childcare support system at work in place. The policy is there, but little has been done to implement it.

"Furthermore, women themselves need to have more realistic expectations of their first job and what the salary is," she said. Career fairs and workshops give professionals an opportunity to explain the reality of the situation and to provide a clearer picture of career progression. The Dubai Women Establishment, which seeks to promote women's roles across the GCC, has adopted a policy of ensuring that childcare centres in workplaces are established, starting with every government department. While the UAE stands out in the region as one of the more progressive nations regarding women's rights and participation in professions, there is room for significant improvement, delegates at the conference agreed. Despite four universities for women, and several government initiatives and privately funded projects promoting the role of women in society, more is needed, they said. "The UAE has no problem with capital, and no problem with promoting the role of women. The environment here is very conducive, so why is there not more female participation?" said Prof El Khider Ali Moussa from Ajman University. "Personal characteristics play a role, which leads to lack of personal motivation. But on the other hand there is positive discrimination occurring within universities to accept more female students. Furthermore, they are outperforming the male students." Nabil al Yousuf, executive director of the Dubai School of Government, which is hosting the two-day conference, said: "We are all aware of the serious gender inequalities which exist in this region in education, health, civic and political participation, and economic opportunity. Our potential has been limited by the lack of opportunity for women to participate fully in the development of society." Opening the conference yesterday, James Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank, said the gap in the region between employment opportunities for men and for women was a cause for concern, with economies growing less than four per cent a year. "We are approaching a period of the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, and this is not something that can be avoided or that can bypass the Gulf," he said. "There is now an extraordinary backdrop which puts pressure on the most vulnerable, such as women. In order to give effect to economic development, the role of women needs to be recognised and it needs to be done domestically, rather than from the outside." nsamaha@thenational.ae