Women’s fortunes in the UAE are skyrocketing, and they are entering major professions and all walks of life. Today, Emirati women can be found across many fields, in politics, economics, business, culture, sports and many others. Their presence reflects the diversity of the growing economy, society and culture of the UAE.
Emirati women are found across the economic professions, in technology, science and education. They are innovators, graphic artists, internet gurus, bloggers, digital technology experts, they are athletes, weightlifters and trainers and even take part in formula car-racing. Today, some are fashionistas, work as jewellery designers, painters, film directors and many more.
In the UAE, this is the age of women. The sky’s the limit for them. The market today has become wide open for them, thanks to the political leadership of the country which has continually pushed for women empowerment so that they take part in the development and modernisation of the state as envisioned by the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Today, the UAE government has put forward major initiatives to ensure women become major contributors in the development process.
These include the Emirates Women Day instituted since 2015, Gender Balance Council led by Shaikha Manal Bint Mohammad Al Maktoum and the Gender Balance Guide to establish indicators and markings of the role and “embeddedness” of women in the national economy and the socio-political framework. These are developing in parallel with the fact that women have a very high literacy rate at 95.8 per cent, beating males at 93.1 per cent and comparing much favourably with the global average of 82.7 per cent. They are more likely to pursue higher education degrees and make up more than 70 per cent of university graduates.
Women dominate the public sector work force at 66 per cent. The leadership has been keen to project the profile of women in the decision-making process. In the present 31-member UAE Cabinet there are nine women holding important, creative and innovative ministerial portfolios including a Ministry of Happiness whose role is to look after and gauge the welfare of citizens.
The post of Minister of State for International Cooperation is now held by Reem Ebrahim Al Hashemi and the women ministers now control community development, general education and youth affairs in the UAE cabinet. This post of Minister of State for Youth is held by Shamma Suhail Faris Al Mazroui. When she was first appointed she was only 22 years old. The medium age of the Cabinet is around 38. Great strides are being made in the Federal National Council (FNC), the country’s parliamentary consultative body. In the Cabinet, Noora Mohammad Al Kaabi is the Minister of Cultural and Knowledge Development.
In the current 40-member FNC there are eight women members and in the 2015 elections 78 from among 252 candidates were women. In addition to that, the current speaker and president of the FNC is a woman. Dr Amal Al Qubaisi became the first in the region to lead a national assembly.
Today, Emirati women are appointed as diplomats, ambassadors and global representatives of the country. They form 20 per cent of the UAE diplomatic corps which is indeed a major achievement. On top of the list, is Lana Nusseibeh who became the first female UAE Permanent Representative to the UN in September 2013. In 2017, she was elected to represent the Asia-Pacific Group in United Nations meetings and debates. As well, Emirati women currently serve as ambassadors to Finland, Denmark, Latvia, Spain, Portugal, the Holy See (Vatican) and Montenegro and there are women consuls in Milan, Kosovo and Hong Kong. The effect of this will be important in the short, medium and long terms to create women leaders in the decision-making process. Emirati women have been making long strides ahead in the driving-seat.
Besides the political process, Emirati women seem to have a penchant for the economy. In one sector alone, banking, women make up 70 per cent of the Emirati workforce.
Emirati businesswomen took a front seat through the country’s business sector, being encouraged by such names as Shaikha Budoor Al Qasimi who chairs the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority. Today there are 23,000 Emirati businesswomen across the UAE. They are working in investments and global market projects at capitalisation of $10 billion which gives a clear indication of the size and extent of the women business weight in the economy and business activity as is shown on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange where total Emirati women investors reached 219,000 with the market value of shares traded at Dh18.8 billion in 2017.
This is just indeed the tip of the iceberg for Emirati women are truly part of the modernisation process of the UAE. There are indeed many faces and names that will continue to grow in the near future driven by the country’s leadership.
Marwan Asmar is a commentator based in Amman. He has long worked in journalism and has a PhD in Political Science from Leeds University in the UK.