x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Women's rights a work in progress

The UAE has come a long way in advancing the status of women in all walks of life. Helping half the population take a step further, by giving them support to seek office in the FNC, is a logical next step.

Emirati women have become increasingly well established in public affairs. Roughly 59 per cent of Emiratis working in the public sector are female, and 30 per cent of these women hold senior positions. Women are now Government ministers, executives and business leaders. The list goes on.

Yet despite all these positive trend lines, elected female representation in the Federal National Council is still lagging. In 2006, just one of the 20 contested seats was filled by a female candidate. Voters overwhelmingly chose male candidates.

As The National reported yesterday, Dr Anwar Gargash, the minister of state for FNC affairs, says the time has come to try and increase this ratio.

We certainly hope the voting public agrees. Greater female participation in this evolving advisory body is in the best interest of the nation.

To be sure, resetting the elected balance will be a long road. Campaigners for September's elections will need to shuttle between different areas in their emirates, which can be difficult for some women in more conservative emirates.

But what's most important may be that this issue is being raised at all. In a region where some women are still fighting for the right to drive, women in the UAE have, in Dr Gargash's words, "emerged as important players, both as voters and candidates".

When Emirati voters themselves select women as their representatives, the hope is that a body more reflective of society writ large will emerge. No government in the world gets this exactly right, but it's a worthy goal.

It would be inaccurate to suggest men are incapable of crafting policies that reflect the needs of women in society. But there's no question that closing the gender gap helps produce a more inclusive political environment which can, in turn, offer better solutions to issues from domestic violence to maternity leave laws. More female role models is good, too.

The UAE has come a long way in advancing the status of women in all walks of life. Helping half the population take a step further, by giving them support to seek office, is a logical step in an experiment that is already paying dividends.