By Jumana Khamis
Women leaders assess achievements in gender empowerment in the UAE and Gulf region
Dubai: As the UAE joins the global community in celebrating International Women’s Day on Wednesday, women in leadership roles in the UAE voiced their opinions on gender empowerment efforts in the region, which have ensured increased participation of women in the workforce and in decision-making roles.
“Our beloved country, the UAE, pays attention to women and provides them with all the tools that enhance their contribution to the development process. The vision of our wise leadership has helped the UAE pass the stage of women’s empowerment, to empower society through women,” said Khowla Al Muhairi, Vice-President of Marketing amd Corporate Communications at Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) and Chairperson of Dewa’s Women’s Committee.
She referred to the UAE Gender Balance Council, which was established under the leadership of Shaikha Manal Bint Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, President of the UAE Gender Balance Council, President of Dubai Women’s Establishment, and wife of Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, as another milestone in women’s empowerment.
“As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we thank our wise leadership and all women leaders who have continuously worked to empower women and provide care for families and children across all the emirates. The Mother of the Nation, Her Highness Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the General Women’s Union, Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation, has played a major role in empowering Emirati women and enhancing their creativity,” added Al Mehairi.
The UAE’s leadership has an aim to raise the country’s ranking to one of the top 25 countries in the world for gender equality by the year 2021 through women’s empowerment initiatives. Currently, women in the UAE make up 66 per cent of public sector workers, and 30 per cent of them are in leadership roles, while women aged 15 years and above constitute 46.6 per cent of UAE’s labour force.
The UAE has eight women ministers, making it one of the highest rates of ministerial representation in the region. Women also occupy about 75 per cent of positions in education and health sectors, and their representation in the Federal National Council stands at 20 per cent.
The UAE also ranks first among 132 countries in the ‘women treated with respect’ indicator in the Social Progress Index 2015 report. Gulf News talked to five women in the UAE about the progress in women’s empowerment in the UAE and GCC region on the occasion of International Women’s Day.
Free fertility screening this month
On International Women’s Day, Bourn Hall Fertility Centre, Dubai, is offering all women in the UAE a chance to get a free fertility health check throughout March at its clinic in Jumeirah.
The fertility check will include a free AMH, FSH and LH hormone blood tests to determine fertility potential.
The screening will be particularly beneficial to women under the age of 38, who are considering delaying pregnancy, and those with a family history of ovarian failure, autoimmune disease, chemotherapy or previous surgery to the ovaries.Depending on the results, one can choose to have egg-freezing as an option, or can start a family earlier than planned.
Hanan Darwish, French-Egyptian
President — Gulf Countries and Pakistan, Schneider Electric
“The Gulf Cooperation Council region is home to many female role models who have taken on the responsibility to break the glass ceiling, time and again. Women’s increased participation in the workforce has shown us what diversity can do for business growth and community development. In fact, we have created an enabling policy to increasing female representation within Schneider Electric, and encourage all corporate leadership to commit to such integration. Given the commendable work women are doing across every sector, it is important that we take a moment today to celebrate their strengths, as well as their social, cultural and political successes. In the spirit of International Women’s Day 2017, let us be thankful to the millions of women making their mark on the world, and stay mindful of the work yet to be done in creating gender parity across homes, businesses and communities.”
Dr Dalya Al Muthanna, EmiratiPresident and CEO of GE Gulf
“I strongly believe that women in the Gulf region have been contributing significantly in transforming the business environment. From driving large-scale organizations to creating a vibrant small and medium enterprises supply chain, the region’s women professionals have become active partners in social growth, and have an increasing role in sectors such as industries and manufacturing. By creating new jobs for women in engineering, manufacturing, IT and production management roles at GE, we are supporting the vision of regional governments in not only creating jobs for women but also further empowering them to make positive contributions to the economic diversification initiatives, outlined by our leadership.”
Helen McGuire, 37, British
“It is well known that the government has women’s issues across employment and inclusion high on its agenda, but there needs to be more done at the grass roots to enable ideas to spring into life. Local chapters of global women’s movements such as ‘Women In Leadership Forum,’ ‘Ellevate,’ ‘30 per cent Club,’ ‘SheSays’ and ‘LeanIn’ work hard in the UAE to push the agenda, providing events, training and networking opportunities for women, that have a direct effect on how women see themselves and are seen in our region. Many global corporates have ingrained women’s initiatives and internal bodies to support their females. Most large-scale multinationals acknowledge and actively support women within their organisations, or at least understand the value and importance of it. There is awareness around these issues, but what we need now are shared learnings, results and accountability – talking about it is not enough and it is definitely up to women to continue to demand equality from their employers.”
Jehan Abdulkarim, 35, Bahrain
Director of marketing and communications for the Middle East and North Africa, Accenture
“It’s been amazing to see how quickly we’ve moved on issues here in the UAE. The country’s leadership has not only voiced their commitment to gender equality, but they’ve shown it too through their actions. I’m very positive about the role that women are playing in the country’s development, both in the government as well as in the private sector. The government is playing its part in showing society where we should be headed; each of us has to play our part [in doing the same] in our personal and professional lives.
“I started out my career in the public sector as a programmer for a government institution in Bahrain. I wanted change and challenge. I took a huge risk and moved by myself to Saudi Arabia to set up the first business publications. Everyone told me not to; they said, “You’re a woman, why do you want to move there? Who will take care of you?” Rather than changing my mind, these words spurred me on to take up the opportunity. I felt tested and challenged, and I achieved what I set out to achieve. I’ve never looked back since, and I’ve always looked to change the mentality of people who say that women should be pigeonholed by talking about my own experiences. We need more women role models, more leaders based on merit who will inspire others.”
Seema Balwani, 35, Indian
Finance manager for the Arabian peninsula at Procter & Gamble
“I feel that we’re moving in the right direction when it comes to women’s empowerment. The recent examples about extending maternity leave is a great sign of how seriously women’s empowerment is taken by the country’s leadership. It’s also refreshing to see how many female leaders there are, both in the government and the private sector. It sends out a sign to the public, both men and women, that there’s no glass ceiling when it comes to women in the UAE. The gender imbalance is primarily societal; we’re taught from a young age what boys should like and what girls should like. We need to start questioning these stereotypes, and give girls the confidence that they deserve to be able to realise their dreams. I loved the Always #Girls Can Middle East campaign because it raised awareness of what all a girl can do and the fact that the possibilities are limitless. Meanwhile, men are fathers, brothers and sons, and have an important role in empowering women. They way they talk about and treat women will have a lasting impact on the women around them. Dads need to be just as attentive and loving as mums when it comes to daughters. That also applies to housework.”