#UAENationalDay45: WAM Report – Women's Empowerment

ABU DHABI, 30th November, 2016 (WAM) — On the occasion of the 45th National Day celebrations of the United Arab Emirates, the Emirates News Agency, WAM, has issued a series of reports regarding the achievements of the state over the past year. In part eight, the nation’s successes in the field of women’s empowerment come under the spotlight.

2016 has seen many achievements in the field of women’s empowerment, none more so than when the government installed women in three new progressive positions as part of a major government shake-up.

Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Minister of State for Tolerance, Ohood Al Roumi, Minister of State for Happiness, and 22-year-old Shamma Al Mazroui, Minister of State for Youth Affairs and the youngest minister in the world, were appointed to the UAE Cabinet to lead the country into a healthy future and cement the ideals of tolerance and happiness in society.

In an article written following the announcements made in February, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said that the decision to establish those ministries was in response to what was learned from events in the region over the past five years. “In particular, we have learned that failure to respond effectively to the aspirations of young people, who represent more than half of the population in Arab countries, is like swimming against the tide. Without the energy and optimism of youth, societies cannot develop and grow; indeed, such societies are doomed,” he said.

“That is why we have appointed a Minister of State for Tolerance. We believe that a legal framework should formalise the tolerance our society already displays, and that our policies and initiatives will provide an outstanding example to our neighbours,” he added.

“I am writing to send a message, that governments in our region and elsewhere need to revise their roles. The role of government is to create an environment in which people can achieve their dreams and ambitions, not to create an environment that government can control. The point is to empower people, not hold power over them. Government, in short, should nurture an environment in which people create and enjoy their own happiness,” he said.

Sheikh Mohammed said the ministers would drive policy to create social good and satisfaction. “We want a young and flexible government that will fulfil our youth’s aspirations and achieve our people’s ambitions.”

The minister of state for tolerance would promote the virtue “as a fundamental value in UAE society”, Sheikh Mohammed tweeted.

The Vice President also announced the creation of a UAE Youth National Council. The “elite group of young men and women” would advise the government on youth issues and be led by a female minister of state for youth, he said, adding, “The energy of youth will fuel our government in future.”

Women have also entered into high-ranking positions in other sectors, when in October, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, elected Captain Aysha Al Hameli, the UAE’s Permanent Representative to ICAO, as the Council’s First Vice-President for the period 2016-2017.

Speaking on the announcement, Al Hameli said, “I am delighted and honoured to be elected for the position of Vice President of the organisation and this confirms that the door is open now, more than ever before, for Emirati women to reach the top positions in the country, and increase the international representation of the UAE in major international organisations, as a result of the government’s policies that encourage this direction.”

In March this year, Fatima Al Qubaisi went from being the first Emirati female student to graduate with a law degree from Paris-Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi to being the first Emirati woman to join Harvard Law School in the US. “I belong to a family that likes to break records. My aunt, Amal Al Qubaisi, is one of my role models, as she is the first female President of the Federal National Council,” Al Qubaisi, 25, told The National newspaper.

Earlier this year, Malala Yousafzai spoke to the world from the UAE during the ‘Investing in the Future’ conference in Sharjah, calling on people to unite to end conflict and make a commitment to ensure equality for women across the world.

After surviving a near-fatal attack by the Taliban on a school bus four years ago, the 19 year old Pakistani used her visit to the UAE, a country which has given her much support since the attack, to call for an end to war and conflict, the empowerment of girls and women through education by giving them a voice and independence.

She also urged men to speak up and encourage women to dream, she vowed to continue her struggle for quality education, women’s empowerment and peace.

“On one hand there is poverty, injustice and lack of funding in education that is impacting children and women, and on the other hand there are conflicts and wars making the situation far worse,” she said.

Also at the event, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, reiterated the imperative and undeniable role that women play in the building of the nation and said that every official should speak about the role of women in the country’s history. “In the UAE, men did not build the country alone, women played an important role and were also pillars of society,” he said.

In the international arena, the UAE continues its heavy involvement in the cause of advancing the rights of women, and in October the country welcomed the inauguration of the United Nation’s Liaison Office for the Gulf Cooperation Council for Arab States, GCC, in Abu Dhabi.

During the launch, H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed said, “Women empowerment comes at the heart of economic and social development in our country and women’s contributions to the growth and progress are indispensable. This makes them an integral part of our policies, including foreign policy.”

The new office will focus on the development of partnerships to advance the status of women in the region, and back the GCC governments to promote gender equality through the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda 2030.

On the occasion, H.H. Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the General Women’s Union, GWU, released a statement which called for launching a solidarity campaign on promoting gender equality.

She said that the campaign will bring together GCC officials, presidents of universities, academic circles and businessmen, to advance the women empowerment cause to take their natural role on an equal footing with men in areas of work, production and nation-building.

The statement was read out on behalf of H.H. Sheikha Fatima by Reem Abdullah Al Falasi, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, in the presence of Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women.

Sheikha Fatima underlined that the event establishes a new era of cooperation between the UN and GCC states and backs the advancement of the status of women in the region, supporting GCC governments to promote gender equality.

“The United Arab Emirates looks forward to the evolution of its relations with the United Nations towards women’s empowerment and help them towards progress and leadership,” she said.

“We have pledged to continue our efforts to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in its multi-national development plans,” she added.

Also commenting on the occasion, Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh, Permanent Representative of the UAE to the United Nations, reiterated the country’s commitment to supporting the UN’s efforts towards gender equality and women empowerment.

“We are confident that the UN Women will work to empower women and girls of all countries and ensure their engagement in all sustainable development fields on an equal footing with men,” she said.

In October this year, Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi, Chairperson of Women Advancement Establishment and wife of the Ruler of Sharjah, called for the establishment of a UAE Ministry for Women.

“A ministry for women’s affairs will help ensure the sustainability of the empowerment of women. It will advance their roles and invest their capabilities in serving their society and nation, helping them to face any changes that might arise in the future,” Sheikha Jawaher said as she made the proposal while addressing a special closed session on the first day of the second edition of the ‘Investing in the Future’ conference.

In May this year, Sahar Rasti, a former advertising and events management staffer, became the first woman to work in marine operations at Abu Dhabi Ports, the only woman out of 178 marine operations staff.

Rasti demonstrated her keenness to get involved in every aspect of the job in an interview with a local newspaper, saying that she and a team of technicians spend the early hours of each day at sea aboard a maintenance ship to check on more than 1,000 buoys deployed by port authorities.

In November this year, during an event held to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the UAE Businesswomen Council and the Abu Dhabi Businesswomen Council, Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak said that businesswomen’s councils in the UAE work under one umbrella to reflect cohesion, solidarity and positive and constructive competition.

“As early as the 1970s, we worked on addressing the challenges facing women and removing barriers that blocked their advancement. In 2002, we launched the National Strategy for Empowerment of Emirati Women as a strategic framework for providing opportunities for work and creativity to all women while protecting their rights,” she said.

The UAE leadership has empowered Emirati women, including those in business, to play a more effective role and become key partners in development, innovation, creativity and to spearhead the goal towards a happy society, she said.

H.H. Sheikha Fatima continued, “Over the course of the past 15 years, the number of businesswomen in the UAE jumped to 23,000, of which 12,000 are Emiratis, who run more than 45,000 companies, accounting for nine percent of the total number of companies operating in the country, with investments to the tune of AED50 billion.”

In the private sector, women also account for five percent of chairmanships and 17 percent of the members of company boards of directors, as well as 15 percent of the boards of Emirati chambers of commerce, Sheikha Fatima noted.

In what became one of this year’s most crucial announcements for global women’s economic empowerment, Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Women Advancement Establishment, NAMA, announced that it will be organising the first edition of Women Economic Empowerment Global Summit in the Autumn of 2017, during a NAMA–UN Women roundtable. The event will be held under the overall theme of ‘United for Shaping the Future’, on the side-lines of the second day of the ‘Investing in Future’ conference in Sharjah.

Sheikha Jawaher explained how the Global Summit will see the birth of yet another significant collaboration between NAMA and UN Women, kicking into action their Equal Opportunities for Women Entrepreneurs flagship initiative in Sharjah, the UAE and the rest of the Arab world.

Highlighting education and the right mental conditioning as a precursor to ensuring women’s economic empowerment, Sheikha Jawaher said, “I believe that real empowerment of women can only be realised when we start the process early, teaching our children the values of tolerance, gender equality and equal economic opportunities for women and men. By passing these values to our children from an early age, the empowerment process will be naturalised within the workings of society, and soon there will be a day when we will not have to fight for our rights anymore.”

Abdullah bin Zayed in October announced the UAE’s support for the UN’s ‘HeForShe’ campaign, saying that building on the foundations of mutual respect between men and women and the recognition of their complementary roles in the process of national development is rooted in UAE society.

In a speech read on his behalf by Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, at a ceremony held at the General Women’s Union to mark the opening of the UN Women’s office in Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Abdullah said the UAE was ready to launch the “HeForShe” campaign at the regional level.

“Women’s empowerment has been an ongoing journey in the UAE. This process was initiated by Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, who has always been committed to empowering women at all levels and under all circumstances, along with the support of men, who are a key part of this process,” he said.

“I am pleased to announce that we are ready to launch the “HeForShe” campaign at the regional level,” he added.

The regional campaign will be led by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the General Women’s Union, and relevant bodies in the UAE, including the academic and private sector, and will launch after the Liaison Office commences its work.

The UAE and UN continued their robust cooperation this year when the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) adopted the Sharjah Declaration for Rights and Empowerment of Women and Girls.

Earlier this year, at the closing session of the Investing in the Future Conference, UN Women adopted the Sharjah Declaration that aims to strengthen the resilience of women and girls in the Arab region.

The ‘Sharjah Declaration’ was announced by H.H. Dr. Sheikh Sultan Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and his wife, Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi, Chairperson of The Big Heart Foundation and Chairperson of NAMA.

Sheikha Jawaher said, “Most principles stipulated in the Sharjah Declaration focus on the involvement of women and girls in promotion of peace and achieving stability, which is an extremely important issue amid the difficult conditions experienced by many countries in the region. This is because the lack of security threatens women’s mental and physical integrity and hinders them from becoming an active agent designing the future to ensure sustainable development and prosperity.”

Sheikha Jawaher underlined the need to empower women economically and facilitate the process of granting them the necessary finance to launch projects, the right to participate in government tenders and procurement, and provide the skills to maximise their contributions in various economic activities.

She went on to call for the collection and analysis of data and statistical indicators on women’s participation in economic development in the Middle East to promote women’s roles in business sectors.

In a keynote address during the ceremony, Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al Qasimi, Minister of State for Tolerance, said, “The natural equality between women and men is obvious. Both are human beings in the end, and they need to support each other. Therefore, they must be equal in life opportunities and aspirations for a better future. We must concentrate our effort to promote gender integration to maintain human stability and cope with the inevitable changes and developments that come with time.”

Sheikha Lubna referred to a UN study that shows the UAE among top countries in women’s empowerment, with Emirati women representing 60% of the total national workforce. She emphasised that the nation should support women’s entrepreneurship at government level in its quest to consolidate the culture and attractiveness of entrepreneurship among female Emiratis.

She called for establishing platforms for women to communicate and exchange ideas, a move that will not only stimulate creativity but will also give women a sense of support and self-confidence, enabling them to better prepare and succeed. Women can achieve great success in networking and cooperation with other women owners of small enterprises and help them establish other projects within their community.

Sheikha Lubna concluded, “Supporting women entrepreneurs is a pillar to spur economic growth, since women’s entrepreneurial potential and capabilities have not yet been fully utilised. Women entrepreneurs can play a prominent role in leading the economy and, in doing so, create jobs for themselves and others. This is why we should increase women’s abilities to participate in the workforce and strengthen their participation in entrepreneurial activities.”

She went on to say that creative initiatives and programmes should be launched to support women’s entrepreneurship. “Efforts must also be made to improve these targeted efforts through collecting more consistent data for the study of women’s employment and entrepreneurship that can be run from home.”

The UAE this year also increased its support for women in less obvious fields when a new programme which aims to increase representation of female farmers in the Middle East was announced.

The programme, called ‘Tamkeen’, which means empowerment in Arabic, was developed by Dubai’s International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture to mentor women studying agriculture at university to deal with challenges faced by female farmers.

Also known as the Young Arab Women Scientists Leadership programme, the project, which is in a six-month design phase, will reach outside the UAE and involves countries including Oman, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.