OPN_190523-Emirati-women-(Read-Only) Emirati woman
In 2018, the UAE was ranked the first country in the Arab world for wage equality, with Emirati women achieving the best gender equality in the leadership and administrative positions’ index. Image Credit: Agency

Today, Emirati women account for more than 66 per cent of jobs in the country’s public sector, close to 30 per cent of which are decision-making positions. Despite making up the largest portion of the workforce in the government sector, Emirati women are not looking behind, determined to pursue their rights on an equal footing with their male counterparts.

According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2018, the UAE was ranked the first country in the Arab world for wage equality, with Emirati women achieving the best gender equality in the leadership and administrative positions’ index.

In the private sector, specifically in business, there are 23,000 businesswomen who currently run investments worth more than Dh50 billion. Women also occupy 15 per cent of the positions on the boards of chambers of commerce and industry nationwide.

Emirati women make up 57 per cent of the private sector’s national human resources, according to a research titled Tools of Emirati Women’s Empowerment, conducted by Dr Mariam Sultan Lootah, a noted academic.

In recent years the media and social networking platforms in the UAE have frequently used the term women’s empowerment, which has become the dominant issue in discussions and talks. Questions have emerged: What does women’s empowerment really mean?

In fact the term empowerment, whether it is related to women or men, refers to the process of gaining knowledge, skills and capabilities that empower one to overcome obstacles that might prevent them from achieving the goal, or reaching the place he or she strives for.

Empowerment means fostering an environment that enables individuals to pursue their rights and achieve the desired goal without any financial problems that limit their enthusiasm.

Women’s empowerment is a multi-dimensional issue. Dr Mariam Lootah adds that talking about empowerment of women entails politics, culture, religion and legislation. There are four tools for women’s empowerment, including Emirati culture, modern education, the media and legislation.

Women’s empowerment has its detractors too. Some people view the issue of women’s empowerment as an exaggerated issue. During a seminar recently, a rights activist said that overstating the empowerment of women would yield enormous hazards that cannot be felt now but in the near future. In his talk, the activist said the overstated empowerment of women would prompt them to turn away from their primary role in bringing up and caring for children, seen as a sacred role in Arab and Islamic communities. The argument goes that it may encourage women to bully men, which would lead to an increased divorce rate.

Position and rights

The activist wondered whether women’s empowerment is an issue that is mainly derived from society’s need or is dictated by foreign bodies. These views sparked some fears among the symposium’s attendees who mostly replied that it is premature to raise these concerns and affirmed that the issue of women’s empowerment resulted from a social need in the UAE. The comments revolved around the fact that women themselves sense the dangers of the overstated approach towards their empowerment. However, it is still early to talk about that because women have only achieved a few of their goals.

Be that as it may, Emirati culture is a key tool for women’s empowerment. In her research, Dr Mariam notes that there is a victory for women in the UAE’s traditional culture, which is the product of both Arab and Islamic culture. Indeed, the Arab and Islamic cultures have played a major role in preserving women’s position and rights. Disgracing women has nothing to do either with tribal culture or with religion, but is attributed to the misconceptions that were promoted about women’s role since time immemorial.

Women’s participation in the community is a product of their interaction with their surroundings. Throughout history, women practised several professional crafts and played a role in bilateral trade. This means that the UAE’s traditional culture has never prevented women from their roles in politics, economics, literature, poetry, education and traditional medicine that are known to anyone interested in women’s affairs and ongoing empowerment efforts in the UAE.

Mohammad Hassan Al Harbi is a renowned columnist and author whose writings cover various fields ranging from media studies to education.