x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

UN report shows leaps for UAE women in key positions but not at home

A United Nations report shows that the UAE has made progress in getting women into decision-making positions, however work is needed on specific laws that prohibit violence against women.

ABU DHABI // A United Nations report released yesterday had both good and bad news about gender equality and women's rights in the UAE.

Great strides had been made in placing women in the country in decision-making positions, the global report indicated.

But the UAE still did not have specific laws against domestic violence and marital rape, the report showed.

The research by UN Women assesses areas where gender equality and women's rights have improved worldwide in the past century.

Egypt, Jordan and Morocco were the only countries in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region with laws against domestic violence. No Mena country had a law against marital rape, according to the report.

The research showed that in the Mena region the UAE has the highest percentage of women holding ministerial positions, and ranks second, together with Tunisia, in the number of women members of parliament.

Iraq was first with 25 per cent of parliament made up of women, followed by the UAE and Tunisia, which were just below a quarter.

Dr Soaad Al Oraimi, a sociologist at UAE University, said the government played an important role in placing women in leading positions.

"Social values and traditions don't provide many opportunities for women to pursue these positions, so the state has stepped in to support women and give them those opportunities," she said. Meanwhile, in the Mena region the UAE was third in the proportion of working-age women in the labour force at 42 per cent, behind Kuwait at 45 per cent and Qatar at 50 per cent.

The UAE also did not score far from the global average, where 53 per cent of working-age women had jobs compared with 78 per cent of men. However, the gap between genders was larger in the UAE. Ninety-two per cent of working-age men were in the workforce.

The UAE also ranked third from the bottom in Mena, together with Bahrain, in the number of paid maternity leave days available to women, with 45 days.

Michelle Bachelet, the under-secretary-general and executive director of UN Women, highlighted the significance of the research. It "shows that where laws and justice systems work well, they can provide an essential mechanism for women to realise their human rights", she said.

"However, it also underscores the fact that, despite widespread guarantees of equality, the reality for many millions of women is that justice remains out of reach."

Academics were optimistic about improving the UAE's standing.

"I believe in what the state is doing," Dr Al Oraimi said. "As a woman, I can truly say I feel empowered."