Reem Al Hashimi delivering the keynote address at International Women’s Day Forum at Expo 2020 Dubai on Tuesday

Dubai: Women in the UAE have the license to speak and take calls for actions, a UAE minister told a global audience at an International Women’s Day Forum held at Expo 2020 Dubai on Tuesday.

From a country where girl students had to be incentivised with salaries to attend the university to a nation with women being at the helm of affairs in most sectors and further pushing for better representation of women in the private sector, the forum titled ‘Break the Bias’ heard the UAE’s story of massive progress in empowering women.

Delivering the keynote address, Reem Al Hashimi, UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation and Director-General of the Expo 2020 Dubai Bureau, said UAE’s shared vision for human progress is only made viable through the full participation of women in every aspect of the society.

“This understanding can be traced back to the formative influence of the founding mothers and fathers of the nation. It has perhaps gained a broader audience than ever before in the course and the context of the last few months here at Expo 2020 Dubai,” she added.

Great legacy

Talking about the great legacy of UAE women, Al Hashimi said: “We stand here today not as the proprietors of a static exhibition but as the generators and beneficiaries of a firm societal contract. We have earned the license to speak, to make our call to urgent and essential action. We have raised our voice again and again, enabling and inspiring others to do the same on a global scale and on a global stage.

“We stand here today, because we stand together, women and men, all of society in all of its spaces in the common understanding that the economic and cultural progress of any society, its stability, and its security is wholly dependent upon the progress of its women and their active participation in the building of that society.”

Law for private sector?

Addressing a high-level panel featuring leaders virtually, Dr Anwar Gargash, Diplomatic Advisor to the President of the UAE, attributed the enormous positive changes in women empowerment in the country to the wise leadership that took proactive steps that changed the conventional setups in the region.

Though women have made immense progress in government sectors including the federal government and the Federal National Council, he said, there is ample room for strengthening their participation in the private sector.

“I think we are in the process where we want to see more legislation in order to break new frontiers,” he said, calling for laws to ensure better representation of women in the private sector.

He said a 10 per cent representation of women in corporate boards in the in UAE was “not good enough” and called for legislations to have better representation of women in the private sector, especially on corporate boards.

Students on salaries

Taking part in a conversation on breaking barriers at the workplace, the UAE’s first female minister and former president of Zayed University, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, recollected how the leadership emphasised their focus on health and education to empower women and the nation.

She recalled that she was one of the very few women who had travelled abroad and studied in the UK and the US in early 1970’s.

“But in general, there was a disadvantage to some other women with families who were quite conservative. So the [UAE’s Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan] created universities here. And in the beginning, to encourage men and women to enroll, they even had a salary for the students… just to make sure that they get their education. Today, when you talk about literacy, I think the UAE leads the way worldwide,” she said, expressing gratitude to the leaders for empowering women through education.

Bangladesh’s story

Earlier in the panel discussion, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina narrated how she and her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who served as the first President and later as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, had formulated policies and implemented programmes that gave education and empowered women in her conservative country that was otherwise under military rule. Pointing out that Bangladesh’s top leadership roles are now handled by women, she also thanked the male colleagues who support them.

Meeting challenges

The forum also heard that empowering women is critical to meeting some of the most pressing challenges of our time.

Dr Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, United Nationals Population Fund (UNFPA), the sexual and reproductive health agency of the UN, spoke about the need for families to first empower girl children before the society or the country does it. She also called for an end to online gender-based violence and harassment online.

“It is always a sorrow for me to repeat the well-established statistic that one in three women and girls are going to be affected by gender-based violence and harassment online,” she said, adding that UFPA is organising a campaign addressing the issue.

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), who attended the session virtually, spoke about the economics of allowing women equal opportunity. The official quoted studies that showed how educating women and giving them opportunity in trade and leadership would improve the wealth of the nation. She said the WTO’s sister organisation, the International Trade Centre, has been helping women-owned businesses to improve the quality of their products and help reach better markets by giving them training.

Menace of gender bias

In a video message, Amina J. Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations and chair, United Nations Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG), said gender bias contributes to one of the most pervasive and universal of inequalities.

“It fuels attitudes and behaviours that are among the most resistant to change. Gender discrimination, blatant sexism, and stereotyping give women and girls less value and power than men and boys. They influence and shape young women’s ambitions, limiting their sense of what is both possible and appropriate for them. They keep women and girls from pursuing impactful STEM careers and high level leadership roles, burden them with a disproportionate share of unpaid care work and feel violence against women and children,” she added.

Bold examples

Talking about how Cartier helped break the bias, Cyrille Vigneron, CEO and President of Cartier International, which partnered with the Women’s Pavilion to host the event, said the company had promoted a female CEO for the region for the first time and she was doing “super well”.

“Again, the Middle East is a difficult [region] and Russia difficult and Korea difficult. And they are now successfully run by women. And they can do everything we [men] can do and on top of that they can deliver babies and that’s for sure we cannot do and that’s not a bias, that is biology. For the rest, they [women] can do everything. We just have to de-bias and not stereotype ourselves. So that’s what this forum is about.”

Women’s Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai hailed for promoting gender equality

During the International Women’s Day celebrations at Expo 2020 Dubai on Tuesday, several world leaders praised the Expo, its Director-General Reem Al Hashimi and the Women’s Pavilion for promoting gender equality though various initiatives held during the global fair.

In her speech, Al Hashimi, who is also the Minister of State for International Cooperation, said the Women’s Pavilion and its partner Cartier, who organised the day’s events, had also welcomed more than a quarter of a million people of all backgrounds and cultures to the pavilion dedicated to women, said to be the first in the history of World Expos.

Al Hashimi revealed that the pavilion also hosted over 170 events as part of the Expo programme for ‘people and planet’, ‘outlier’ and ‘visions and journey’ series, highlighting the valuable perspectives and contributions of women from the Muslim world and beyond.

“And in particular, the women of our region with their rich and distinctive talent and their limitless potential. I am proud that Expo 2020 Dubai has been awarded the prestigious European and international standard for gender equality in the context of a global mega event, ranging from internal policies to external communications supporting and promoting equality across all of our operations, pavilions and also our programming,” she said.