Women's journey in the UAE: A long track record of achievements

On Sunday, the UAE will celebrate an anniversary that is dear to the hearts of Emirati citizens: the second Emirati Women's Day.

This special day was launched on August 28, 2015, by HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Chairperson of the General Women's Union, President of the Family Development Foundation, and Chairperson of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, in recognition of the importance of women and their pivotal role in the community, as part of the long journey made by the state for their empowerment.

This year’s observance comes as Emirati women continue to celebrate their achievements as their ambitions reach the highest peaks, exemplified by the appointment of eight women to hold important ministerial positions in the current cabinet of the Federal Government, as well as the unprecedented historical achievement at both local and regional levels when Dr. Amal Abdullah Al Qubaisi was elected Speaker of the Federal National Council by the 16th Legislative Chapter, at which point women constituted 27.5 per cent of the total members.

According to a report issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on the occasion of International Women's Day, a woman is serving as the UAE Permanent Representative to the United Nations, seven women are currently employed as Ambassadors and Consuls-General to Spain, Sweden, Portugal, Italy, Kosovo, Hong Kong and the Republic of Montenegro, as well as there being 157 female diplomats working in the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Additionally, some 42 women are now working in the State’s diplomatic missions abroad, as well as those working in Air Defence, Civil and Military Aviation, tribunals and public prosecution departments, along with those in various departments of UAE Ministries.

According to a report issued by the World Economic Forum in 2014, the UAE ranked first in the world index for treating women with respect.

Today, Emirati women occupy 66 per cent of general government jobs, of which 30 per cent are in senior leadership positions with decision-making powers, and 15 per cent in specialised academic jobs. Women’s contributions to economic activity and the labour market has risen steadily since the founding of the Women’s Business Council, bringing the number of enrollees in the Chambers of Commerce and Industry to some 22,000 businesswomen working in local and global markets who are in charge of investments exceeding Dh45 billion, in addition to the number of women working in the banking sector, one of the most important economic sectors in the country, where the percentage of female employees has reached 37.5 per cent.

With the UAE’s celebration of the second Emirati Women's Day, Emirati citizens recall the women and daughters of the great movement started by the late founder, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, which continues to lay the foundations for good governance, growth and development.

On this day, we witness the strength of loyalty and devotion to the leader who gained his people’s hearts and earned a prominent position among world leaders as a result of his benevolent stances that embodied truth, justice, humility and acceptance of others.

Since the early days of the Union, women have confidently and steadily sustained their progress during the development and building of the country, initiated by a leader who believed in his people’s capability to grow and build, and who became historically respected as a great leader who accomplished so many achievements in all fields, be they educational, economic, social or developmental, through a reformist approach. This has led to the provision of expertise in order to continue on the path of building a modern Emirates and broadening participation in decision-making.

The perseverance of the late founder was instrumental in the journey of Emirati women, and had a crucial role in addressing their progress within his pioneering and ambitious project to develop the country and the people when he took the reins of power in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in 1966, and after his success in establishing the UAE Federation 45 years ago.

HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak was, and continues to be, a supporter of Emirati women, and has contributed to directing and improving their position in the local community and in the world.

As an integral part of the people of the UAE, women have reaped the best of the benefits of the renaissance, and accomplished great achievements, which turned women into a catalyst in the process of growth and development. Their achievements have been celebrated internationally as honored examples and role models in the Arab and Muslim world, as well as in the international arena.

The late Sheikh Zayed took initiatives aimed at the advancement of Emirati women and making them key partners in development programs. In a speech he made on the 1st of December, 2003, on the occasion of the 32nd National Day, his pride in the achievements of women in the UAE was highlighted when he said, "We are entitled to recall with much pride the great achievements of women in our country and promote their social and economic roles in the public and private sectors."

During his rule, Emirati women made great leaps in their journey of development and empowerment in all community affairs, compared to the situation of women in other regional and international communities, as they assumed numerous positions in societal, political, economic, social and cultural aspects of the UAE.

Emirati women would not have achieved this status without the awareness and conviction of the wise leadership during the reign of Sheikh Zayed and then later, of President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, focusing on the importance of the role of women in society as partners, not followers, of men on the journey of progress and development. This was translated into a firmly held belief in the role of women in practical policies and in their abilities to achieve benefits and accomplishments, in addition to the keenness of women in achieving their ambitions and overcoming the challenges that they face in order to attain their full rights.

Since the establishment of the UAE federation, the late Sheikh Zayed sought to support women and strengthen their vital roles in nation-building and in achieving the active, positive participation of women in sustainable development.

And so Sheikh Zayed was ahead of his time in supporting women. The support stemmed from his intellectual conviction that the community of the State of the Union cannot flourish by viewing the future from a closed perspective.

Regarding the role of women, he said, "I am sure that women in our rising country are aware of the importance of preserving authentic traditions derived from the teachings of Islam based on family development, where the family is the basis of progress for the whole society."

Emirati women gained unprecedented educational rights in the era of the late founder, entering university education where they have participated in all aspects of further education, including engineering, medicine, management, employment and education. Today, the percentage of educated Emirati women is the highest in the Arab world.

The political empowerment programme for women adopted by the nation’s founder is one of the most important features of the Emirati women’s journey, through which Sheikh Zayed supported the rights of women to assume the highest working and decision making positions, and their participation in political action. He said, "I am an advocate of women and I always emphasise her right to work and fully participate in building her country."

The Women's Union supported the journey of Emirati women, with direct guidance from Sheikh Zayed, as women stepped into the 21st century, joining men in all areas of development. He fervently prompted Emirati women to continue their journey in stimulating their roles in all aspects of life, saying that there is no difference between men and women except in their efforts. He noted, "There is nothing wrong with the enrollment of Emirati women in the Federal National Council."

The call for the involvement of women in political decision making had been long discussed, and in 2004, this became a reality when Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al Qasimi was appointed as the first female minister in the Federal Government, taking up her position in November 2004. She was later appointed Minister of Planning, and so the participation of women in political decision-making continued.

Emirati women have achieved this inclusion in developing the State as a direct result of Sheikh Zayed’s beliefs. And under his guidance, HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the Mother of the Nation, urged women to enter various fields of work, such as the armed forces, aviation, media, and more. Women participated in the UAE’s National Day military parade for the first time in 1990, where there was a dedicated platform for women. HH Sheikha Fatima was at the forefront of the attendees, along with a number of Sheikhas and mothers of officers who had participated in the Gulf War.

Under the auspices of Sheikh Zayed, appointments in the police department included women as they were acknowledged as making up half of society. The police have been training women who wanted to work in this field since 1977 and a women's police school was established in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in March 1978. This event was of great importance in recognising that women cooperate with men at all levels, and was a civilized achievement that contributed to the building of the modern Emirates.

Women police units have made remarkable progress since their founding in 1978, and have succeeded in attracting the country’s women to work in the police field.

In 1990, the Khawla bint Al-Azwar Military School for women was founded and continues to graduate women to this day.

Since the establishment of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan diligently worked to support Emirati women. He ordered the establishment of the "Renaissance of Abu Dhabi Women Association" in 1973, and then the "General Women's Union" in 1975, which is considered the torch that lit women’s journey, and is still the platform that women ascend to have their voices heard by everyone. The late Sheikh Zayed assigned this task to the Mother of the Nation, HH Sheikha Fatima, who was inspired by the thoughts of "Zayed Al Khair" or Zayed the Generous, and led the march of Emirati women along the paths of excellence, pride and progress.

At the end of July 2003, Sheikh Zayed issued a Federal Decree establishing the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, which aims to improve the standards of care of the affairs of motherhood and childhood, and reports directly to the Head of State.

The establishment of this council, an initiative of Sheikha Fatima, was driven by the importance of upholding the role of mothers in preparing generations, doubling the efforts of childhood care and protection of the rights of successive generations of children, in addition to the establishment of moral values that represent mothers and their roles in the community.

In greater numbers than ever, Emirati women are becoming engaged in work that confirms their presence, yet preserves their dignity. The late Sheikh Zayed emphasised on many occasions that, "All areas of work are open to women in the UAE, as they are for men."

He noted that, "Women have made great leaps on the path of participation in the field of national work, and the General Women's Union, under the auspices of HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, seeks to galvanize the role of women in society and to increase their contribution to development, in addition to providing them with the best representation in Arab and international forums."