x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

UAE leads Arab world in gender equality

Women have made gains in literacy, even posting higher rates than men, as well as making political gains, world survey finds.

DUBAI // Progress made by Emirati women, particularly in the political and educational arenas, continues to narrow the gender gap in the country, according to a report published yesterday by the World Economic Forum.

The UAE was the highest-ranked country in the Arab world, placing it 103rd out of the 134 countries included in the annual Global Gender Gap Report, which noted particular improvements in the areas of literacy and political empowerment.

"New data shows that literacy rates for women are now higher than those of men, there are small gains in primary, secondary and tertiary enrolment data, and the proportion of women holding ministerial-level positions has increased," the report noted. The UAE rose from 112th last year, but was down from a high of 101st in 2006.

However, in the five years since the report was first published, the authors noted, the UAE has been among the most improved countries in terms of fostering gender equality.

Though the UAE came in 103rd overall, the country was 37th in the educational attainment category and 60th in the global assessment of political empowerment. However, the country did not fare so well in the categories of economic participation and opportunity or health and survival, coming in at 120th and 110th, respectively.

Fatima al Marri was one of the nine women who joined the Federal National Council (FNC) in 2006, the first time women were admitted. In the past four years, women have been increasingly audible in the 40-member council, she said.

"There is a feeling that we are equal to the men," said Ms al Marri, from Dubai. "There are still some men who are more experienced because they have been in politics for a long time, but the women really made it catching up to the men."

"There is an improvement between 2006 and today." Dr Fatima al Sayegh, a professor of UAE history and society at UAE University, said it has not been the political leadership only that has helped advance women's empowerment, but also the women who have "worked hard and got what they deserved".

"The leadership has been so keen for women to take their rights, not only because of a social necessity, but because it is a national necessity because of the imbalance in the demographics," she said. According to Dr al Sayegh, women outnumber men in higher education and account for 75 per cent of students enrolled in colleges and universities in the country.

However, improvements are still needed in civil rights, including enabling Emirati women to pass their nationality to their children, she said.

The World Economic Forum, based in Geneva, placed Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden at the top of the 2010 gender report. Pakistan, Chad and Yemen occupy the bottom three spots. Elsewhere in the Gulf, Kuwait was ranked 105th, Bahrain 110th, Qatar 117th, Oman 122nd and Saudi Arabia 129th.

zconstantine@thenational.ae