From left: Moderator Eithne Treanor, Managing Director of ETreanor Media, Rapelang Rabana Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Rekindle Learning Global Shaper, Chetna Sinha, Founder and Chairwoman of Mann Deshi Foundation, Alia Khan Chairwoman of Islamic Fashion and Design Council (IFDC) and Hala Sleiman, Merck General Manager Near East during the Global Women In Leadership (WIL) Economic forum in Dubai. Image Credit: Atiq-ur-Rehman/Gulf News

DUBAI: With faith and commitment, women in the Arab world can achieve anything they set their minds to, a UAE government official said on Monday.

“I fully believe that the only barrier to Emirati women pursuing their purpose is themselves … Arab women, Emirati women need to stand up high … I am fully confident in the ability of women to achieve great things for our community, region and the world,” said Dr Aisha Bin Bishr, Director General of the Smart Dubai Office, a government entity that oversees Dubai’s smart transformation.

Women in the UAE and the region “make excuses for themselves” because of their gender, she stated at the Global Women In Leadership (WIL) Economic forum in Dubai, which runs until Tuesday. “We have full support from our leadership to achieve whatever we set our minds to.”

In the UAE, women already occupy decision-making positions in the government sector. They represent more than 60 per cent of the UAE workforce, said Sophie Le Ray, chief executive of Naseba, the organiser of the forum. There are eight women in the 29-member UAE Cabinet, and a woman, Amal Al Qubaisi, is the UAE Federal National Council’s Speaker.

But fewer women hold leadership roles in the country compared to men. Two years ago, roughly 10 per cent of leadership roles in the UAE private sector were taken on by women. The share in the public sector, however, was larger (around 40 per cent), she said.

Full gender equality is expected to add $28 trillion (Dh103 trillion) to global gross domestic product (GDP) in 2025, according to a McKinsey Global Institute report published last year.

“A ‘best in region’ scenario in which all countries match the rate of improvement of the fastest-improving country in their region could add as much as $12 trillion, or 11 per cent, in annual 2025 GDP,” the study stated.

The UAE aims to be one of the top 25 countries in the world for gender equality by 2021, said Mohammad Abdul Aziz Al Shehi, Undersecretary for Economic Affairs at the UAE Ministry of Economy. “We are well on our way to achieving this goal,” he said.

For women to hold top positions, they need to have more confidence in their abilities, and employers should “break that gender bias,” Le Ray said.

“You have women [in the UAE] graduating from STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields more than anywhere else in the world. But … do they have the confidence to go after their dream of being an engineer or being a scientist? That’s part of the education,” she said.