x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Stereotypes 'are holding women back'

UAE survey finds most people believe men are better at leadership and decision making than women.

Najla Al Awadhi, a female appointed FNC member from Dubai, was not surprised by the survey results.
Najla Al Awadhi, a female appointed FNC member from Dubai, was not surprised by the survey results.

ABU DHABI // Most people believe men are more skilled at leadership and decision making and fewer than one in 10 think women have the potential to be better in senior political positions, a new survey has found.

And despite the presence of nine women on the 40-member FNC and the four women who are government ministers, one in 10 residents told researchers they thought there were no women in senior political positions, and a quarter were unsure.

The UAE is among the most progressive Arab countries in terms of female political participation, according to a UN report last year, but the stereotypes revealed by the survey came as no surprise to Najlaa al Awadhi, a female appointed FNC member from Dubai.

"Look at what is happening in the world today," she said. "Look at the history of men running everything.

"We are at a stage we shouldn't even ask how important it is for women to be in politics. They are half of the society … there is a particular need to integrate women in politics."

There are still too few women in key jobs, she said. "When you go into the political domain and do a simple survey, it is clear that there is a gap.

"Comparing the number of women graduating to men does not translate into their integration. The UN Development Programme says we need to address issues of gender discrimination, which are big in this area."

Dr Fatima al Mazroui, an appointed FNC member from Abu Dhabi, also said it was important for more women to enter politics. "The percentage of women on the FNC is 22.5 per cent, which is the highest in the Arab world," she said.

"But we need more women in high positions around the country overall, and in ministries. There are more women in the government sector than men, but they don't have as many high jobs."

The survey of 141 UAE residents, carried out by YouGov Siraj for the Nabd al Arab (Arabs' Pulse) show on Al Aan TV, revealed other deeply rooted stereotypes.

Many people thought women better at raising children, housekeeping and teaching. Only three per cent rated women as better leaders, and four per cent as better decision-makers.

Ms al Awadi said she agreed with some of these findings, but that did not mean they applied to everyone - and it "doesn't mean women shouldn't be given an opportunity".

Rawiya al Samahi, an appointed FNC member from Fujairah, said the presence of so many women on the FNC had helped its work. "It creates a balance," she said. "Men are more aggressive and get angry quicker, although of course not all."

Dr Ebtisam al Kitbi, a political science professor at UAE University, said gender should not be a factor. "Political participation should be for everybody, men and women," she said. "It's their natural right.

"People grow up here thinking that men are the decision-makers and take leading roles, and in the end the women will be housewives, but leadership is talent. Not all men are good at it, but they grow up to think they are."

Dr al Mazroui said: "The problem is not gender,it is thought and logic - the most important thing is to have knowledge, experience and skill. In the FNC there is no difference between a man and a woman."

The survey found that opinion is not with women who put their political careers first. More than half of those surveyed, 57 per cent, said female politicians should choose family over career. Only 11 per cent said they should choose their career.

Men were allowed more latitude. More than half, 54 per cent, said a man whose wife had a high-profile career in politics should continue with his career. Only four per cent thought he should be a stay-at-home father.

Fatima al Kirbi, an assistant professor in political science at United Arab Emirates University, was unconvinced. "If you ask a man, would he pick a career or children, he would also pick his children," she said. "This is human nature."

For Ms al Awadhi, it should not be a question of choosing one or the other. "Why do women have to be pushed into a corner?" she said. "Work environment should be more family friendly. It shouldn't be a question of this or that."

More than half of those surveyed, 55 per cent, thought it was possible for women to juggle home duties and a high-profile political career; 22 per cent disagreed.

Maysoon Baraky, who presents Nabd al Arab, said it was interesting that so many people thought home duties should take precedence over work.

"I agree with this," she said. "If you reach that point, regardless of the reasons, a woman should of course choose the family. It is a priority."

Nabd al Arab will be shown on Al Aan TV at 8pm on Saturday.



‘Women’s place is at home’, survey finds

The stereotypical views revealed by the survey start early enough to put many girls off taking even the first steps towards a career in politics, academics say.

“Sometimes they are seen as being too strong for an Arab woman and Arab men do not prefer strong women,” said Dr Ebtisam al Kitbi, a professor in political science at United Arab Emirates University.

“Men’s point of view is that women’s place is at home, and so women think they are less than men.”

Fatima al Kirbi, an assistant professor at the university, agreed that girls preferred to follow more traditional career paths.

“Girls think, if I go into this career men won’t want me,” she said. “This is wrong, complete delusion, but when you are in your early 20s this is how you think. They are scared to take risks, people here don’t take risks.”

She said boys’ greater freedom at an early age gave them a head start on a political career. “A girl might not have gained the experience she would have needed to go into this career,” she said. “Men can get it much earlier on.”

Mouza al Kathere, a 23-year-old Emiriati diplomatic attache, said she hesitated before deciding on a political career.

“At first, everyone told me this is a masculine career, and there are no jobs in it, and for when we get married it’s hard.

“But there is a way, it is flexible. Now after working I cannot say it is a masculine job.”

Others said they were reluctant to take the risk. “I went into social work,” 21-year-old Shama Hamad said. “It is a better career for a girl.”