Shaikha Manal Bint Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, President of the UAE Gender Balance Council, Chairperson of the ‘Gender Balance Forum’ at the World Government Summit 2019, and wife of Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and UAE Minister of Presidential Affairs, emphasised the UAE Gender Balance Council’s commitment to launch new initiatives and projects to support international gender balance efforts. This is in line with the UAE’s international development approach adopted by the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and carried forward by His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE; His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai; and His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
Shaikha Manal Bint Mohammed highlighted that the UAE's approach to gender balance stems from the country's keenness to honour its international commitments, including the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 2030. The UAE was founded on the principles of offering equal opportunities for Emirati men and women to enable them to contribute to the country’s sustainable development process. The UAE’s efforts in this regard are reflected in its leading position in global competitiveness indicators, and are in line with the nation’s message for the Year of Tolerance, as the UAE expands its efforts globally to foster a culture of knowledge exchange on the subject of gender balance.
The UAE Gender Balance Council’s fourth Global Gender Circle, titled “Impact and results of adopting gender friendly policies”, was held at the World Government Summit 2019 at Madinat Jumeirah, under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The session was chaired by Mona Ghanem Al Marri, Vice President of the UAE Gender Balance Council, and witnessed the participation of international experts and officials who discussed and reviewed the impact of gender-friendly policies across the world.
The session was facilitated by Huda Al Hashimi, Assistant to the Director-General for Strategy and Innovation at the Office of the Prime Minister, and attendees included Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Ireland’s Minister of State for Higher Education; Maria del Pilar Garrido Gonzalo, Republic of Costa Rica’s Minister of Planning and Economic Policy; Bintou Chabi Adam Taro, Republic of Benin’s Minister of Social Affairs and Microfinance; Mitcy Larue, Republic of Seychelles’ Minister for Family Affairs; Carolina Sanchez-Paramo, Senior Director of Poverty and Equity Global Practice at the World Bank; Haifa Najjar, Senator in the Upper House of Jordanian Parliament; Gleam Davis, Mayor of Santa Monica; Krista Pilot, Senior Vice President for Public Policy, Government and Corporate Affairs for Asia, Middle East and North Africa (AMENA) at PepsiCo; Hanane Arif, Head of Communication and CSR at Societe Generale Corporate and Investment Banking Middle East; Lynda Mc Quaid, Special Advisor to Irelands’ Minister of State for Higher Education, and Maria Axente from PwC who serves as the Program Driver of Artificial Intelligence, Technology and Investment.
Raising awareness of government roles
The workshop comes at an opportune time when there is a growing need to raise awareness around the role that leaders, businessmen and the community can play to spur tangible progress in the field of gender balance, and promote the participation of women in national economies through strategies and gender-sensitive policies that span governments and private sectors to ensure sustainable development. The workshop addressed international efforts to increase opportunities for women and their effective representation in decision-making positions. It also deliberated the challenges these suggested changes would pose in the work environment, while highlighting global best practices that have helped address the gender gap in several countries.
Global Gender Circle: A global initiative
At the opening of the seminar, Mona Al Marri, Vice President of the UAE Gender Balance Council, welcomed the participants and gave a brief presentation on the UAE Gender Balance Council, which was established in 2015 to address the gender gap across all sectors, and establish the nation as an international role model in the field of gender balance. She stated that the council works on initiatives on a local, regional and international level to achieve goals that are in line with Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision. Among such initiatives is the Global Gender Circle, which was launched in March 2017 under Shaikha Manal Bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s directives as an ongoing initiative alongside major international conferences and events. The Global Gender Circle aims to provide a platform for the exchange of ideas and knowledge among government officials, experts and thought leaders from around the world in order to find solutions to address the gender gap and promote women’s economic and political contribution participation.
H.E. Al Marri said that three sessions have been held as part of this global initiative. The first was organised in March 2017 in New York under the theme ‘The Challenges of Implementing Gender Policies: A Vision for Action’ and hosted by the UAE Permanent Mission to the United Nations. The second session was held in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at their headquarters in Washington in November 2017, and discussed government budgets for gender balance. The third session was held in Brussels in March 2018 and was hosted by the UAE Embassy in Belgium, and focused on trends in gender balance in the European Union. Several experts, scholars, diplomats and representatives of international organisations attended the session.
The Vice President of the UAE Gender Balance Council also highlighted that similar initiatives around the world have helped enhance female participation in social, economic and political spheres. She added that providing a supportive environment for both men and women is paramount and that it cannot be achieved without ensuring effective policies at a national and institutional level. Furthermore, she emphasised that governments around the world are increasingly aware of the benefits of women's active participation in the economy and society, and thus champion gender balance.
She added that a supportive environment for both men and women is one of the key factors that has helped achieve gender balance, and praised the contributions made by the participants, stating that she hoped the Global Gender Circle will result in the proposal of new initiatives that aim to elevate women's standing across economic and political platforms around the world.
Participants in the Global Gender Circle spoke about the gender balance initiatives implemented in their countries and organisations.
Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Ireland’s Minister of State for Higher Education, spoke about an initiative introduced to increase the percentage of women in senior academic leadership. “In Ireland 50% of graduates are female but only 23% of professors are female. This year, we brought in a senior academic leadership initiative as part of which we created gender-specific women-only academic posts. As part of the initiative, we created 45 women-only jobs in total, which will raise the percentage of women at the professorial level to approximately 40%. To mention another initiative, we asked companies that have more than 250 employees to publish their gender pay gaps and put them out there to the public. We also set targets for public companies to have 40% women in their boards. We exceeded that target this year and more than 50% of those appointed to public boards are women.”
Abdulla Nasser Lootah, the Director General of the UAE Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority (FCSA), which was recently named the Best Federal Entity for Supporting Gender Balance, stressed on the need for strong internal will in organisations to promote gender balance even when laws, policies and guidelines are in place. “If there is no will from inside nothing will happen and they will never take action. It takes a lot of effort to mobilise everyone so that they are aligned on gender balance. I depend on women in the office to run the show. They can fly as high as they want in terms of ideas." Lootah also spoke about the need for involving the private sector in advancing gender balance. “The largest employer in any country is the private sector. In the UAE, we want to make the private sector aware of the need for gender balance. But we cannot tell them what to do. This has to be a two-way process,” he added.
Gleam Davis, Mayor of the city of Santa Monica, talked about the challenges of empowering women to run for public positions “One of the challenges we encounter in city government is getting women to run for office. In the United States, the statistic is, if you ask a man once to run for office, you have to ask a woman five times. So, we set up mentorship circles which identified good candidates and we formally mentored them. The other two things we have done are, we now insist that childcare be provided in all civic meetings. It is amazing how childcare can be an impediment to women’s participation. We also moved meetings around so that working women, or mothers who are taking care of children, can participate."
Krista Pilot, Senior Vice President for Public Policy, Government & Corporate Affairs for Asia, Middle East and North Africa (AMENA), PepsiCo, talked about her organisation's robust people planning process to enhance gender balance: "We have 2,500 employees in the UAE and we have a robust people planning process. We quiz each of our people leaders to ask them what slate of candidates they have. If we don’t have women candidates, we ask how can we help get them. We find out whether it is mentoring that the candidates need or whether it is peer coaching, or whether it is rethinking the demands of the job. For example, we look at how automation can be used to make a job more appropriate for women. We have had great success in Saudi Arabia, where we have women-only lines in our factory in Riyadh. We are looking at it from the frontlines all the way up to the executive level.”