22 January 2018, GENEVA – During a panel debate on the advancement of women’s empowerment in the Gulf region, a group of high-level women’s rights experts praised the efforts of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to enhance women’s empowerment and advance gender equality.

These observations were made during the panel debate entitled “Women’s empowerment and gender equality in the United Arab Emirates” held on 22 January 2018 at the United Nations Office at Geneva. This panel debate was organized during the 29th Session of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group by the General Women’s Union of the UAE, with the support of the Geneva Centre.

The meeting took place in the presence of H. E. Noura Al Suwaidi, Director-General of the General Women's Union, and H. E. Rym Abdulla Al Falasy, Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood. All speakers paid tribute to the UAE’s Mother of the Nation - H. H. Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak – for her key role in the remarkable advancement of the role of women in the UAE.

In his welcoming remarks, the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director and panel moderator H. E. Ambassador Idriss Jazairy remarked that an “open and balanced debate” on the obstacles impeding the realization of women’s empowerment and gender equality is needed as “significant achievements have been reached in terms of equity, but equality is still some way off” in all regions of the world.

In this context, he commended the efforts of countries in the Arab region to promote greater participation in decision-making processes, stating that “more than 60% of the overall gender gap in the Middle East and the North Africa region” had already been closed, as highlighted in the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report published by the World Economic Forum.

In regards to the efforts of the UAE to contribute to achieving this goal, Ambassador Jazairy noted that “the UAE is one of the regions’ best-performers with regard to women’s empowerment and gender equality.” This can be attributed – he observed - to the adoption of UAE’s national plan entitled “UAE Vision 2021”, which aspires to make the country one of the world’s top 25 countries for gender equality by 2021.

Ambassador Jazairy likewise noted that the UAE Gender Balance Council has played a key role in identifying concrete actions to integrate gender equality in all relevant policies. Ambassador Jazairy said: “At the behest of a gender-sensitive and forward-thinking government that spearheaded a series of public and private sector initiatives, women are playing an increasing role in all aspects of public life in the UAE.”

The realization of UAE Vision 2021 is on track – he remarked – as the UAE government has made numerous achievements in advancing women’s empowerment. Ambassador Jazairy mentioned that 77% of women in the UAE are enrolled in higher education and that UAE women represent 70% of all university graduates. Female literacy rate has reached 95.8% - he noted - and women participation in the UAE Parliament now stands at 20%.

The Geneva Centre’s Executive Director likewise praised the UAE government for enacting legislation requiring female board members in every company and government agency. As a result of this, over 13% of Board members were women and “26.7% of all senior executive positions in the UAE are held by women,” concluded Ambassador Jazairy in his intervention.    

UAE’s commitment in promoting and enhancing women’s rights is exemplary

Following the opening remarks of the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director, telling examples were provided by the keynote speakers on UAE’s achievements in enhancing gender equality and advancing women’s rights.

Professor Dr. Wadouda Badran –Dean of the Faculty of Business Administration, Economics and Political Science at the British University in Egypt – stated in her intervention that the UAE had reached important milestones in promoting gender equality, but highlighted, nonetheless, that greater coordination between all stakeholders was needed in order to overcome the remaining obstacles.

She remarked that while legislative reforms had been initiated towards advancing the status of women in the country, better implementation was needed in order to achieve concrete results as well as obtaining gender-sensitive statistics and data to inform the policy-making process. She praised the efforts of H. H. Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak in the field of women’s empowerment, particularly her initiatives aiming at promoting gender equality among the youth.

Professor Badran concluded her intervention commending the efforts of the UAE to support the work of the Arab Women Organization. The Second Conference of the Arab Women Organization, held under the auspices of H. H. Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak in 2008 was, according to Professor Badran, an important achievement of the UAE in promoting the cause of women in the region.

In her intervention, H. E. Ms. Lulwa el Awadhi - Legal Advisor to Her Majesty the Spouse of the King of Bahrain- addressed the progress of the UAE in advancing gender equality. She said significant progress had been achieved by enacting legislation that supports the advancement of the status of women in all spheres of Emirati society. In this regard, H. E. el Awadhi stated that the UAE Constitution provides specific guidance and provisions on enhancing gender equality through the adoption of legislation addressing matters related to, inter alia, access to labour, family affairs, employment and justice.

Gender equality – she said - stopped at alimony which was provided in UAE culture by males to females and not vice-versa. She also expressed the hope that the transfer of nationality from a mother to her children would be facilitated.

The Secretary General of the UAE Gender Balance Council - H. E. Shamseh Saleh - contributed to the debate by assessing the progress towards achieving women’s empowerment in the Gulf country. In this context, H. E. Saleh stated that “achieving gender balance and tackling gender inequality is a fundamental part of the UAE’s human rights agenda and the nation’s mission to ensure equal opportunities for all. UAE has demonstrated a clear commitment to strengthening female participation across all spheres of life, and I am incredibly proud of where we stand today.”

H. E. Saleh concluded stating that UAE will continue to “introduce progressive legislation and policies, shape dialogue, work with local and international partners and develop new initiatives and solutions” to create lasting change, conducive to the enhancement of gender equality in the country.

In her panel intervention, the Director of the United Nations System Coordination Division at UN Women, H. E. Aparna Mehrotra, spoke about the importance of creating partnerships to accelerate the advancement of gender equality. In this regard, she said that “UAE has been a strong supporter of the mission of UN Women” and that the country’s commitment to achieving gender equality and enhancing women’s empowerment was “exemplary”.

In this context, she praised the Chairwomen of the General Women’s Union and the Family Development Foundation and President of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood H. H. Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak “for her relentless efforts in driving gender equality and women’s empowerment in the UAE.” “She has ensured that women’s empowerment – economic and otherwise – is a key focus in all that the UAE does,” said H. E. Mehrotra. 

H. E. Moza Elshahi – the Director of the UN Women UAE Liaison Office for the GCC – likewise offered her insights of the role of UN Women in contributing to advancing gender equality. UN Women remains committed – she observed - to enhance coordination between different actors in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment in the region through the establishment of partnerships.

In this regard, H. E. Elshahi noted that women’s empowerment will bring economic benefits for the countries in the Gulf region including the UAE. “Gender equality is not only a basic human right, but its achievement has strong social and economic impact. Empowering women help the economy, productivity and growth. When women are empowered, all of society benefits – women and men, girls and boys,” she concluded in her intervention.

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