The UAE attitude to women is guided by the country’s leaders. Six women with a range of experience in UAE society reflect on the advances made and the road still to travel.
Sara Al Balooshi, 23, Emirati from Abu Dhabi
Photographer and lifestyle blogger
The UAE has changed a lot throughout the years. Women now hold stronger positions, even in the Government, when compared to other countries in the region.
The roles have changed a lot from 20 years ago when women did not even continue their studies.
They would perhaps make it up until high school and many did not even get to finish their studies then. But the number of women graduating from university now is high.
I think the only thing we can think of improving is the mentality of men regarding women being stronger or having more control.
They should ideally be more open-minded towards women having stronger positions in society.
I notice that so many more women are now studying subjects such as mechanical engineering, which was not so common a couple of years ago. Women would usually go into education or business, we did not really have female pilots like we do now, and more and more women are getting into these fields.
My parents graduated from university but the generation before them were more used to women staying at home and being mothers. I definitely think that my future children will be blessed to grow up in such a new environment.
Shahd Thani, 30, Emirati from Dubai: Writer and blogger
I have always found the UAE to be very progressive in terms of how it regards women and the community because we have always had women in positions [of authority] and our leaders recognise that. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, appointed more women in the Government now and I think this is just one more step to prove that, in the UAE, it does not really matter if you are a man or a woman, you just have to have a dream. The country has shown that it is more than willing to support that dream, especially now with the focus on youth. Younger people being appointed to Government shows that the UAE has faith in its women and its youth.
There is always room for improvement but I do notice when I listen to people and when I walk around at work that this improvement is slowly taking place. I notice pictures of men and women from [the past], and there would be one woman with a lot of men. But now I see a lot of women standing in front, as directors and managers, so I feel women have come a long way.
Part of what really needs to be changed is people’s mentality about women stepping to the front.
We still have the mentality that you should be a housewife and that you cannot work and be a mother, you either have to choose between having a child or being an employee, but a lot of people nowadays are proving that the opposite can be done, and done well.”
Dr Eman Al Jaberi, Emirati from Abu Dhabi: First female police investigator, lieutenant colonel, police college instructor, and now a lawyer
All the leaders of the UAE believe first and foremost that the woman is equal to the man, especially in the days of the late Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father of the UAE.
His strategy was all about making the woman more effective and practical towards her community and this all stems from the Quran.
Islam tells us to respect women and to never treat them badly or harm them. The leaders understand this and they respect their mothers and their wives. They regard women highly and always make sure that they are treated well.
Our leaders truly believe that men and women should work hand in hand and it is such a wonderful way of thinking.
Young Emirati girls now work very hard and they deserve to be at the same level as men and to be rewarded the same way. They love the country and we can really notice it throughout society and the Government now that we have a Minister of State for Happiness, who is a woman.
The leaders have shown that they have placed their full trust in women, and women have proven that they can be efficient. We are lucky to be Emirati women because the leaders truly trust us.
Barbara, lady Judge, American-British: Former head of the UK Atomic Energy, Authority and member of the International Advisory Board for the development of nuclear energy in the UAE
My experience in the UAE is that they are making a tremendous effort to bring women along in the government and in society and there’s a real push and a very enlightened leadership here, you can see that. I continually ask how many women are in the nuclear programme and it is consistently more and more.
I have spoken at the Higher Colleges of Technology for women and they have high numbers of women studying to go into in male-dominated firms, which leads me to believe that if they are being led that way by their teachers, it means there will be jobs. Universities are trying to educate their female students to go into the business world.
When I walk around the Executive Affairs Authority building, I see lots of women who are professionals, so I have to assume that there is a Government push because they really believe in it and they are trying very hard to bring women along.
I believe the leadership understands it has a very small population and that they cannot afford – as an economic matter – not to utilise the talent of their very smart women.
Sarah Amiri, 29, Emirati from Dubai: Deputy project manager and science lead at the UAE Mission to Mars at the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre.
From what I can see, women here are empowered and have opportunities. They’ve gone beyond the point of demanding their rights and equal opportunity and they’re at a point now where they’re able to enter any field depending on what they can contribute.
We have got to a point where they are excelling and competing with other individuals in their fields on merit, they’re not given positions because they’re women, but because they’re capable of fufilling the role that is required.
They have a much better position year after year, they have all the tools they need provided by the Government, from very basic education to opportunities to excel in their fields. Fields have become more diversified in the UAE – they’re no longer challenged like they were before in terms of sector. Before, you had to cater what you were doing towards the opportunities that existed, but now the opportunities exist and you can achieve what you’ve put your mind to.
It’s quite a remarkable thing to see such [prominent] positions [available]. It shows the country is thinking ahead, sustaining its development and thinking of leading in all sectors in all fields.
As long as there are opportunities, young Emirati women will go for it. In the UAE we’re seeing fewer male--dominated sectors and that sends a clear message to anyone who wants to work in that sector that they’re welcome to work.
Dr Ismahane Elouafi, Moroccan: Director general of the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai
The UAE made great strides in women’s rights and women’s inclusion in the decision-making processes and in the workforce. I’m discovering strong Emirati women in leadership positions – and what got me very surprised is that I discovered a different career path model [for women] than the one I used to know in Morocco and in the western world.
Women in the UAE and in the GCC countries tend to start a family very early, have children, study in parallel and then start their professional career at quite high speed after the children are grown up. I found this model very interesting and well adapted to the women’s life cycle. It was a great discovery.
The UAE has gone far in a very short time. The country’s development in different sectors is amazing. I believe the style of life, the constitution, politics, regulations, education, health and so on have changed tremendously.
There is so much more that needs to happen, including making sure that all policies and regulations are gender sensitive, reinforce the gender parity and encourage public and private sectors to provide [suitable] environments to the female workforce.
Positive discrimination for women for some time – a few decades – will help society worldwide to come to a situation of parity much faster.