The UAE is already one of the region’s best performers for improving gender equality, according to a 2016 Global Gender Gap ranking by the World Economic Forum.
The annual index– which measures gender equality based on economic participation and opportunity, education attainment, health and survival and political participation – reported a 64 per cent reduction in the UAE gender gap by the end of last year.
The leadership of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has played an instrumental role in spearheading significant progress towards the participation of Gulf women in society and the economy. Under his guidance, notable successes include the creation of the female-chaired UAE Gender Balance Council, women making up 17.5 per cent of the UAE’s Federal National Council, and the presence of 20,000 female entrepreneurs in the country.
These globally recognised milestones are important factors in resolving certain perception challenges – both in terms of global stereotypes on the role of women in this region and the way in which women perceive themselves, ideals that are largely influenced by tradition and culture.
While gender identities remain key aspects of culture and social norms shaping the way daily life is lived in the family and wider community, these norms are continuously being reinterpreted in response to the evolving needs and conditions that come with a developing society.
In this process, there are some values that will be reaffirmed and others that will be challenged. We must continue working to focus on the cultural values that empower, inspire and support women in formulating, advocating and pursuing their own visions and ambitions as productive members of society.
At Dubai Business Women Council (DBWC), this ethos is at the heart of our work. By providing strategic education, training and networking opportunities to aid the holistic development and aspirations of UAE-based women, we have created a genuine movement of trailblazing women making positive impacts on society and the economy.
In doing so, we are seizing the opportunity to showcase to a local, regional and global audience that women in this region are respected, occupy leadership positions, are successful entrepreneurs and can be valuable members of the community in terms of both cultural values they are proud of and in a business context.
As international institutions join forces with regional organisations to drive the global advocacy movement for gender equality, now is the time for businesses to work with government gender balance agendas and support women in the workplace.
At a recent event celebrating the launch of the DBWC’s historic partnership with the United Nations Global Compact UAE Local Network, I talked about the importance of women’s empowerment principles to national progress, and the role of both public and private institutions in pursuing this aim.
For example, there is a direct correlation between female workplace participation and positive economic impact. This pattern makes addressing the challenges women often face in the workforce ever more pertinent and there are tangible steps that employers in the public and private sectors can take to enhance the support of women in the business community. These include investing in benefits important to women, such as flexible working hours and the provision of day-care facilities.
However, creating awareness of the positive influence of progressive gender balance on the economy is a shared responsibility that should permeate all levels of society and there is no better place to start than with the region’s energetic and ambitious youth community. They are the emblems of hope and the makers of our future.
Regional events such as Expo 2020 YouthConnect will bring together young people to recognise their potential in contributing to sustainable economic development. International conferences that take place in Dubai, such as the World Government Summit held in February and the Global Youth Forum, which addresses social innovation and entrepreneurship, are key to placing young people at the centre of the region’s progressive narrative and future vision.
The more we can do to normalise and stimulate collaborative participation in economic development – irrespective of gender – from a younger age, the closer we will be to closing the regional gender gap, increasingly regional GDP and – most importantly – inspiring women to be the best they can be in a supportive environment.