Women in the United Arab Emirates

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Women in the United Arab Emirates
Maitha Salem Al-Shamsi (cropped).jpg
Maitha Salem Al-Shamsi, female Minister of State of the United Arab Emirates.
Gender Inequality Index[1]
Value 0.241 (2012)
Rank 40th out of 148
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 12 (2010)
Women in parliament 17.5% (2012)
Females over 25 with secondary education 73.1% (2010)
Women in labour force 43.5% (2011)
Global Gender Gap Index[2]
Value 0.6372 (2013)
Rank 109th out of 136

The role of women in the United Arab Emirates has advanced greatly in recent years, making the UAE a leader in women's rights in the Arab world[citation needed]. Though there were few opportunities for women outside the home before 1960, the discovery of oil led to advancement in women's position.[citation needed] The UAE constitution guarantees equality between men and women in areas including legal status, claiming of titles, and access to education[citation needed]. The General Women's Union (GWU), established by HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak wife of then President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, remains a strong component of the State's and participating organizations' various initiatives.[citation needed] In the 2007/2008 United Nations Development Programme report, the UAE ranked 29th among 177 countries in the Gender Empowerment Measures, the best rating received in the Arab World.[3] UNDP’s Millennium Development Goal No. 3, to “Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women” has reached its targeted levels of female participation in primary education and continues to increase.[4]


The role of women in UAE society has gradually expanded since the discovery of oil. Before 1960 there were few opportunities for them outside the realm of home and family. The late president, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, acknowledged the validity of women participating in the work force as well as in the home. He was also instrumental in opening the first girls' school back in the 1960s. Zayed's wife, Sheikha Fatima, heads the Women's Federation and promotes training, education, and the advancement of the status of women. In the early 1990s, there were five women's societies promoting various issues of importance to women, including literacy and health.[5]

Women constituted 6.2 percent of the work force in 1988. A study by the Administrative Development Institute found that a majority of female workers who are UAE citizens work under the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health. In 1988 they accounted for 82 percent of UAE national employees in these ministries. As of the late 1980s and early 1990s, women graduates outnumbered men by a ratio of two to one at United Arab Emirates University.[5]

The extensive changes to Emirati women’s traditional rights and roles have been one of the most visible transformations taking place in the UAE throughout its almost forty years of modern history. In fact, the UAE government has recently described ‘the evolution and growing prominence of Emirati women as partners and contributors (. . .) [to the country’s] nation-building process’ as the development that perhaps best illustrates the country’s achievements. This assessment is complemented by the UAE state’s declared goal that, through example, it aims ‘to establish a new benchmark for gender empowerment in the region’.[6]


The 2007 report on the progress of MDGs in the UAE states, “the proportion of females in higher education has risen remarkably at a rate that has not been achieved in any other country in the world. During the years 1990 to 2004 the number of female university students has grown to double that of male students. This is the result of the promotion and encouragement of women’s education by state and family.”[4] The ratio of literate females within the 15- to 24- year age group rose from 100.5% in 1990 to 110% in 2004, reaching 90% literacy overall in 2007. Upon completion of high school, 95% of Emirati women continue on to higher education and comprise 75% of the student population at the Al Ain national university. Women comprise 70% of college graduates in the UAE.[7][7] According to Dubai Women’s College, 50-60% of its 2,300 students proceed to seek employment upon graduation.[8]


Women account for 1-2% of the UAE’s high executive positions, 20% hold administration positions, 35% are in the national workforce, and 80% are classified as household workers.[9] UAE women have the highest rate of participation in employment of the GCC countries, according to the Booz & Company on Women's Employment. UAE women account for 59 percent of the workforce participation, while Kuwait women account for 42 percent, Qatar women 36 percent, Bahrain is 34 percent, and in Saudi Arabia it is 20 percent. Female graduates in the UAE are employed within historically male-dominated professions of government, engineering, science, computer technology, law, commerce, and the oil industry. Within the business sector, the UAE possess the largest number of businesswomen in the region where entrepreneurship is becoming increasingly popular, providing desired social flexibility between a woman’s traditional role in the home and widely emerging career aspirations. At the nine year old Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange, women constitute 43% of its investors while the city’s Businesswomen’s association boasts 14,000 members.[10] At the forefront of Emirati women in business is Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan al Qasimi, appointed Minister for Economy and Planning in November 2004 and subsequently promoted to her current post as Minister of Foreign Trade. Sheikha Lubna holds the distinction of being the first woman to hold a ministerial post in the country. Promoting trade relations throughout the world on behalf of the UAE, her efforts have led her to be rated within the Forbes Magazine’s 100 Most Powerful Women.[11]

Politics and government[edit]

Within the public sector, governmental employment for Emirati women has increased from 11.6% in 1995, 22% in 2005 and 66% as of June 2007.[10] Thirty percent of the diplomatic service, ministerial posts and senior administrative positions within government are represented by women – a confidence best exhibited by recent prestigious appointments. In September 2008, Hassa Al Otaiba and Sheikha Najla Al Qasimi became the UAE’s first female ambassadors, serving Spain and Sweden respectively.[12]

Only a month later, these strides were proceeded by swearing in of the Emirates’ first female judge, Kholoud Ahmed Juoan Al Dhaheri[13] The following month, Fatima Saeed Obaid Al Awani was appointed the country’s first female registrar. In a region where the testimony of a woman is widely questioned to have equal value to a man’s, the UAE became only the second Arab country with a female marriage registrar after Egypt.[14] By 2006, women have accounted for over 22% of the Federal National Council.[7] The UAE's minister of state post is Reem Al Hashimi, who is the first female minister to be in this role.[15]

Women are free to join Government departments including the Police. When Dubai police purchased some luxury vehicles, they permitted them to drive the police cars and also take pictures with these newly acquired additions.[16]


Sexual assault[edit]

Human rights groups express concern over what they consider a criminalization of rape victims.[17] In two cases, women who reported being raped were sentenced to prison for "engaging in extramarital relations", as their allegations were considered unfounded by authorities.

Over 50% of women residents in the UAE say that they would not report a rape to police.[18]

In 2008, an Australian woman working in the UAE reported a rape to the authorities and was imprisoned for 8 months for having sex outside of marriage.[19] In 2010, a Muslim woman in Abu Dhabi recanted her allegations of being gang-raped by 6 men, claiming that the police threatened her with corporal punishment for premarital sex.[20] In 2013 a Norwegian woman, Marte Dalelv, received a prison sentence of sixteen months in Dubai for perjury, consensual extramarital sex and alcohol consumption, after she reported her boss to the police for an alleged rape; she was later fully pardoned and allowed to leave the country.[17] Men involved in these alleged rapes were also convicted for extramarital sex.

Nadya Khalife, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, says that "these charges will make young women in the UAE, citizens and tourists alike, think twice about seeking justice and reporting sexual assaults for fear of being charged themselves".[21] She also stated that "the message to women is clear: victims will be punished for speaking out and seeking justice, but sexual assault itself will not be properly investigated".[22]


The most significant accomplishment towards gender equality in the UAE, and even the region, is most visible through women’s participation in the military. Pursuant the 1991 Gulf War, Emirati women expressed a desire for preparation in defending their country. Subsequently, the Gulf region’s first military college for women – the Khawla bint Al Azwar Training College was established along with a women’s corps within the Armed Forces. Females are granted the same training and responsibilities as their male counterparts including serving as fighter pilots, but are prohibited from serving in front line combat.[10] The Dubai Police College, promotes the highest-ranked graduates of a six-month training course to the VIP Protection Corps where twenty women have thus far been accepted.[23]

International involvement[edit]

Exceeding standard international obligations as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the UAE regularly participates and hosts international conferences on women’s issues. Among the most recent have been the Women’s Global Economic Forum in Abu Dhabi during November 2007 and the Arab Women’s conference in November 2008. Often under the patronage of Her Highness Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, participation and agendas are frequently conjoined with local initiatives such as the Ewaa Shelters for Women and Children (founded in 2008); the Social Support Center (affiliated to Abu Dhabi Police and Human Rights Care Department); Dubai Foundation for Women and children Establishment (initiated in November 2006 under the presidency of HH Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum); the National Strategy for the Advancement of Women, a joint initiative with the United Nations Development Fund for Women; and the Family Development Foundation (established in 2006)[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Human Development Report". United Nations Development Programme. 2013. p. 156. 
  2. ^ "The Global Gender Gap Report 2013". World Economic Forum. pp. 12–13. 
  3. ^ United Nations Human Development Report 2007/2008
  4. ^ a b UNDP Millennium Development Goals United Arab Emirates Report (PDF), p. 14 (March 2007).[dead link]
  5. ^ a b "Status of women". United Arab Emirates: A country study. Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress of the USA (January 1993).  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  6. ^ Vânia Carvalho Pinto, Nation-Building, State and the Genderframing of Women’s Rights in the United Arab Emirates, (1971–2009), Ithaca Press, 2012
  7. ^ a b c "On Human rights day, Emirates first among Arab countries and (95%) women's participation in higher education"
  8. ^ "Dubai Women Storm World of Work". BBC News (August 2005).
  9. ^ Glass, Amy. "Working women contribute US$3.4bn to the UAE’s economy". Arabian Business (December 2007).
  10. ^ a b c d "Women in the United Arab Emirates: A Portrait of Progress" (PDF). UAE Ministry of State and Federal National Council Affairs (June 2007).
  11. ^ “The 100 Most Powerful Women.” Forbes (2007).
  12. ^ "Sheikha Fatima hails ability of UAE women to undertake national responsibilities." The National Media Council: UAE Interact (September 2008).
  13. ^ “UAE Swears in First Women Judge” Arabian Business (October 2008).
  14. ^ “Fatima is UAE's first woman marriage registrar.” Gulf News.com (November 2008).
  15. ^ http://www.thebusinessyear.com/publication/article/10/1233/uae_dubai_2012/show-and-tell
  16. ^ http://www.theweeklydriver.com/bugatti-veyron-police-car-sure-dubai/
  17. ^ a b The Associated Press (22 July 2013). "Dubai Pardons Woman at Center of Rape Dispute". New York Times. Retrieved 22 July 2013. 
  18. ^ “Survey says Arab women unlikely to Report Rape.” Muslim Women News.com (January 2010).
  19. ^ “Brisbane rape victim sues UAE luxury hotel.” ABC.net.au (March 2011).
  20. ^ “Abu Dhabi Rape Case Twist as Victim Recants Allegations” ABCnews (May 2011).
  21. ^ “UK couple charged with illegal sex released in Dubai.” BBC News (January 2010).
  22. ^ “Dubai's Shameful Record on Rape.” Human Rights Watch (January 2010).
  23. ^ "Women in the UAE". Sheikhmohammad.co.ae.

External links[edit]