Disparity in pay is only part of the problem, they said
More needs to be done to help working women in the UAE, say industry watchers
The new wage equality law approved by the UAE Cabinet should go a long way to further improving the status of women in the workplace, but there is still work to be done, industry watchers say.
The UAE Cabinet endorsed the law on Tuesday, guaranteeing earnings equality between men and women in a move that has been widely welcomed.
But some say other problems, many of them related to family structure and responsibilities, must be addressed before women can achieve true equality.
Toby Simpson, former managing director at a large recruitment company, said one problem for working women centred around childcare commitments, which fall disproportionately to them.
“Although this is changing it could go further, and I am sure it will do,” Mr Simpson said. “If we really want to create equality we need to encourage men to take as significant a role in child care as women.
“I believe we should treat men and women exactly the same when it comes to allowances, flexi-time arrangements and other mechanisms to encourage this. “I think we have a wider societal debate about how to address these issues.”
Lucy Chow, director of the Women’s Angel Investor Network in the UAE, said one way to achieve that could be to offer fathers more rights under law to take paternity leave.
The Minister of Community Development, Hessa Buhumaid, said last month that legislation was being drafted to provide that.
“That would be fabulous, and many men would be happy to do that or have shared leave, and there are countries that do that,” Mrs Chow said. “It’s the equitable way to go.”
She said another way to further narrow the gap between what women are earning and what they deserve is to introduce a law banning employers in job interviews from asking what the prospective recruit was paid in their last job.
Mrs Chow, who was a victim of unequal pay while working in banking in Hong Kong, said states and cities across the US had already introduced similar laws.
“That’s been a huge disadvantage for women,” she said. “I was a victim of having my salary pushed down, so I would argue that it was not a good indicator of my worth.”
Dr Hanadi Saleh, a social adviser in Abu Dhabi, said the new law should help to successfully address wage inequality.
“This is fair and is followed in other countries. Even in Jordan men and women of the same post and grade receive an equal salary,” Dr Saleh said.
She praised the decision and said pay disparity was considered normal in this society because traditionally, Emirati men were considered the providers of their families.
“However, women provide for their families too and in some cases they are the sole providers if they are single, widowed or divorced,” Dr Saleh said.
She said women often complained to her about inequality, “and men received more appraisals and promotions”.
“This made them feel demotivated and unequal,” Dr Saleh said. “They said this upset them because they graduated from the same universities and are performing the same job.”
* additional reporting by Haneen Dajani