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Women’ Role in United Arabs Emirates in the Past 20 Years

Introduction

There has been a continuous change in the role of women in the United Arabs Emirates (UAE) in the past 20 years. In essence, the UAE has developed its women to the point of becoming the leading nation in women empowerment across the Arab countries. Although the UAE was trailing in women empowerment in the 1960s, it has grown tremendously to become an icon in women empowerment across the world.

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Advancement in women empowerment in the UAE started with the discovery of oil as after this discovery, people in the region began educating women. The constitution of UAE spells out the right to equality of men and women in various areas; for example, titles, legal status, and education.

Sheikha Fatima binti Mubarak, who is the wife to the former UAE president Sheikh Al Nahyan, established the General Women’s Union (GWU). This union is still competitive and instrumental in the fight for women empowerment in the UAE today. The UAE has grown tremendously, and it achieved top 30 positions among 177 countries surveyed in 2007/2008 by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

The UAE was ranked the best in women empowerment by the UNDP in the same year. However, there have been controversies on women rights violation by laggards in the UAE. Nevertheless, the role of women in the UAE has changed tremendously over the last 20 years.

Change of roles of women

The role of women in the UAE has changed in the last 20 year. The cultural way of life that prohibited women from being employed have since changed. Al Oraimi (2011) affirms that traditionally, Arab women were confined to the kitchen and the house. However, cultural changes have allowed women to gain university and secondary education, and thus, they are ready for challenging tasks in administration.

In the modern day UAE, women take 1-2 % of senior executive positions in both the private and the public sector. This aspect indicates that employers in the UAE appreciate women as leaders. According to Goby and Erogul (2011), the roles of women have also changed, and women can now be heads in workplaces, which indicates a big change in the role of women in the UAE.

Before 1990, very few women held senior positions of administration. According to Salloum (2003), it is also clear that 20% of the administrators in the UAE are women, which further underscores the view that a considerable number of women in the UAE have acquired leadership roles. Salloum (2003) further affirms that 35% of the women in the UAE are employed in the national workforce.

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Other roles of women in society have also changed, and their employability in the national labor market has improved tremendously. The number of women in the national workforce has also increased due to high advocacy for women education and constitutional demands.

For example, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) report of 2007 indicated that the UAE had achieved the highest rate of women empowerment across the world through higher education.

Stalker and Mavin (2011) assert that in the period between 1990 and 2004, female students’ enrolment at the university doubled that of their male counterparts. By 2004, the ration of educated women who were within the range of 15 to 24 years developed upwards; for example, from 1990-2004, it moved from 100.5% to 110%. From 1990 to 2007, the total growth in literacy among women aged between 15-24years was rated at 90%.

According to Salloum (2003), the 2007 MDGs report on the UAE indicated 77% of women in the UAE continued with higher education after secondary education. Stalker and Mavin (2011) assert that in 2007, Al Ain University in the UAE reported that 75% of students, which proceed with university education there, were women.

Another institution in the UAE, the Dubai Women’s College, reported that an average of 55% of its students is employed upon completion of their studies. This aspect indicates that a good percentage of educated women in the UAE are employed. Education is a powerful instrument of empowering women in the labor market. According to Salloum (2003), about 59% of the labor force in the UAE is women.

This number is the highest rate of women employment in the region since the rates of women employment in neighboring countries are lower; for example, in Qatar, it is 36%, Saudi Arabia 20%, and 42% in Kuwait. Aswad and Samulewicz (2011) assert that currently, 20% of the women graduates have taken over jobs in traditionally male-dominated careers like engineering, computer, law, and soil science.

The UAE government has also spearheaded empowerment of women in the workplace by employing them in careers that were traditionally dominated by men; for instance, there are women government engineers and medical doctors.

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Al Oraimi (2011) observes that in the traditional UAE, women were allowed neither to contest for the political position nor to be appointed to leadership positions. However, in 2004, the country enjoyed the services of a nominated woman, Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi, who was appointed as the Minister for Planning and Economy. Moreover, Lubna was later on appointed to a senior position the minister for Foreign Trade.

Madsen (2011) observes that women in the UAE have not only become influential in their nations but also across the world; for example, Forbes Magazine identified Sheikha Lubna as one of the most powerful women in the world. According to Salloum (2003), in 1995, the number of women employees in the government was only 11.6%. However, this number increased to 22% by the year 2005.

The steepest rise in women in government employment was experienced between the years 2005 to 2007, where it rose from 22% to 66%. The government has boosted the role of women in the UAE by ensuring that 30% of senior government officials are women.

For example, in every appointment to senior public offices like diplomatic appointments, ministers, and senior government officers in the UAE, women form part of the appointments. For example, Suliman and Moradkhan (2013) observe that in 2008, the UAE appointed two women, Hassan Al Odaiba to Spain and Najila Als Qasimi to Sweden, as ambassadors. These were the first women to undertake the role of ambassadors in the UAE.

Moreover, Stalker and Mavin (2011) assert that in 2008, the UAE appointed a woman as a judge. Kholoud Ahmed Joan Al Dhaheri was appointed the first woman judge in the country, which was another big step in women development. Also, in 2008, the UAE appointed Fatima Saeed Obaid Al Awani as the first female registrar in the UAE and the second in an Islamic country after Egypt.

Metcalfe (2011) observes that another stride in the changing women roles came after the appointment of Reem Al Hashine as the first woman minister in the UAE. Many women have been appointed to the federal national council of the UAE.

The role of women in the UAE has also changed from the recipient of security provision to that of providing security. The UAE has increased the number of women police officers. Women police officers have also taken the role drivers of police cars. A considerable number of women police officers are personal security providers for the VIPs in the UAE. Women police also receive equal training as that of their male counterparts.

Aswad and Samulewicz (2011) assert that women police officers have also begun undertaking the role of pilots. Women in the UAE are also undertaking the role of military officers. Madsen (2011) observes that since 1991, the UAE started training women on military skills to protect their country, especially after the Gulf War.

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The UAE has gone a step further to set a women military college in the Gulf region, viz. the Khawla bint Al Azwar, which was the first women military training college specializing in women training.

Women have also taken various roles in the international community. The UAE has exceeded the expectations of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). In 2007, women in the UAE hosted the Women’s Global Economic Forum, which was held at Abu Dhabi. In addition, the government of the UAE hosted the women conference of 2008.

Counter argument

However, a considerable number of people argue that the role of women in the UAE has not improved in the last 20 years. According to Goby and Erogul (2011), although the number of educated women in the UAE has increased, 85% of them still do household chores.

This aspect indicates that women are still attached to their traditional house chores. Critics also argue that although women have been absorbed into the military, they cannot be at the battlefront during wars; hence; they, have not fully taken the full duty of an army officer.

According to Suliman and Moradkhan (2013), larger majorities of the UAE women are Muslims, and they believe that men should remain as the dominant gender in the society, and thus they oppose equality. Cases of rape have also increased, and women who report such cases are mistreated in the hands of the police in UAE.

For example, Marte Delelv reported that her boss had raped her, but instead of the boss being jailed, Dalelv was jailed for six moths for extramarital affairs. Justice for women is not yet realized; in fact, over 50% of the UAE women indicated that they could not report if they are raped.

Refutation

Regardless of all these counter-arguments, it is clear that the role of women in the UAE has changed in the last 20 year. Since 1990, the UAE has empowered its womenfolk to occupy roles previously held by men only. Metcalfe (2011) observes that in the UAE, women are now successful ministers, police officer, army officers, ambassadors, businesspersons, and even court registrars.

The UAE has also been ranked as the best nation in women empowerment amongst Islamic countries. The government sponsors annual women conferences, and women stand against sexual harassment. Therefore, the challenges facing women in contemporary UAE are the normal universal challenges of gender disparity across the world.

Conclusion

The role of women in the UAE has changed tremendously in the last 20 years. Women have taken the role of administrators, politicians, ministers, police officers, military officers, pilots, businesspersons, and many more. However, cases of rape and injustice against women are still high in the UAE.

Arguments against women development in the UAE cannot counter the facts on women empowerment in the region, which was rated as the best-improved nation in women empowerment across the world in 2007/2008 UNDP report.

References

Al Oraimi, Z. (2011). The concept of gender in Emirati culture: An analytical study of the role of the state in redefining gender and social roles. Museum International, 63(3), 78-92.

Aswad, G., & Samulewicz, D. (2011). Creating a knowledge-based economy in the United Arab Emirates: Realising the unfulfilled potential of women in the science, technology, and engineering fields. European Journal of Engineering Education, 36(6), 559-570.

Goby, P., & Erogul, S. (2011). Female entrepreneurship in the United Arab Emirates: Legislative encouragements and cultural constraints. Women’s Studies International Forum, 34(4), 329-334.

Madsen, R. (2011). The experiences of UAE women leaders in developing leadership early in life. Feminist Formations, 23(1), 75-95.

Metcalfe, D. (2011). Women, empowerment, and development in Arab Gulf States: a critical appraisal of governance, culture, and national human resource development (HRD) frameworks. Human Resource Development International, 14(2), 131-148.

Salloum, H. (2003). Women in the United Arab Emirates. Contemporary Review, 283(1651), 101-16.

Stalker, B., & Mavin, S. (2011). Learning and development experiences of self-initiated expatriate women in the United Arab Emirates. Human Resource Development International, 14(3), 273-290.

Suliman, A., & Moradkhan, E. (2013). Leadership and national culture in the UAE. Global Conference on Business & Finance Proceedings, 8(2), 408-423.

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