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Khalid Al Ameri: In ten years Emirati women will be the driving force behind the UAE
February 17, 2015
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

During last week’s Government Summit, the topic of women in the UAE took centre stage with some major announcements. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, announced the formation of the Gender Balance Council to be chaired by Sheikha Manal, who herself is President of the Dubai Women Establishment.

In other news Sheikha Bodour Bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairwoman of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority, stated during her panel session that “Women in the region should be given a larger role in decision-making to enable them to become equal partners in all political forums … and there should be more diversity at the top to avoid creating obstacles for women, namely obstacles such as society, legislation and women themselves.”

That last obstacle mentioned by Sheikha Bodour, “women themselves,” got me to reflect on the many challenges that we all face in our lives, namely ourselves and being able to overcome certain self-doubts, as well as cultural stigmas, in order to pursue our dreams and create the lives we love.

Even in light of these obstacles I have a prediction I want to make. Within ten years women will be the main driving force behind the development of the UAE, overtaking men in the number of leadership positions held within government and semi-government institutions. Here is why.

In addition to writing, a lot of my work revolves around supporting students in universities and high schools throughout the UAE to critically think about their lives, the role they want to play in the world, and how to structure and develop meaningful careers. I can tell you beyond all doubt that over 90 per cent who attend the talks, workshops, and events held in universities are women.

Additionally, amongst the pleasant sea of shaylas and abayas at the Emirati Youth Forum, which focused on career development, sat just four young men. I was there and it was pretty easy to count them off. Women are taking greater ownership of their lives, with a specific focus on their careers. They want to ensure that whatever it is they do that they bring absolute value to their role and organisation, because it is something they are passionate about.

Secondly, late last year the Ministry of Labour released data stating that women make up 66 per cent of the UAE’s government workforce. Given comments by our country’s leadership to ensure women are given leading roles in the development of the country let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that a significant majority of these women are in non-leadership positions.

The point is that 66 per cent is still a major part of the existing workforce. Given the push by leadership, as well as the upcoming policies that we expect to be put in place on promoting women into leadership positions, the process should be faster and smoother within the government relative to other sectors. Why? Well for the primary reason that the government doesn’t have to go on a hiring spree to find a pool of talented women, they already exist within their respective units and departments.

Last, but certainly not least, is that the intellectual capital today is highly skewed towards Emirati women. According to statistics published by the UAE Embassy in the United States, 3 out of every 5 students in the public higher education system are women. Furthermore, 77 per cent of UAE females continue on to higher education from high school, where UAE national women represent 24 per cent more than the number of UAE national men enrolled.

As the UAE’s development increasingly shifts towards a knowledge-based economy only the smart will thrive, and so far it is our women who are stretching themselves academically to prepare for that economic shift.

Initiatives by the country’s leadership on women empowerment in the UAE are coming at a perfect time, while the energy and drive of our young women is starting to take off. In a sense meeting them halfway through their journey to give support, it’s a beautiful thing to witness.

More importantly our women are doing what they need to, which is something I wish their male counterparts would follow more closely, and that is to fully utilise the opportunities of growth and education being presented to them today, so that they are prepared to prosper regardless of tomorrow’s circumstances.

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The author is a columnist on education and youth development.

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