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
Value 0.241 (2012)
Rank 40th
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[1]
Value 0.6372 (2013)
Rank 109th out of 136

Women in United Arab Emirates have achieved some measures of legal protection in recent years. In 2008–2009, 21% of Emirati women were part of the labor force, whereas 45% of Kuwaiti women were part of the labor force.[2]

Some laws continue to discriminate Emirati women. Emirati women must receive permission from "male guardian" to remarry.[3] The requirement is derived from Sharia law, and has been federal law since 2005.[3] Women in UAE are victims of Sharia-derived judicial punishments such as flogging and stoning.


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. In the early 1990s, there were five women's societies promoting various issues of importance to women, including literacy and health.[4]


In 2006, less than 20% of Emirati women were part of the national labor force.[5] UAE has the second lowest percentage of local women working in the GCC.[2] In 2008–2009, only 21% of Emirati women were part of the labor force.[2] UAE has the highest percentage of total female labor participation in the GCC (including expatriate women). However, Kuwait has the highest percentage of local female labor participation in the GCC because more than 45% of Kuwaiti women are part of the national labor force.[2] 80% of women in UAE are classified as household workers (maids).[6] Within the business sector, the UAE possess the largest number of businesswomen in the region where entrepreneurship is becoming increasingly popular. 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.[7] 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. Her efforts have led her to be rated within the Forbes Magazine’s 100 Most Powerful Women.[8]

Dubai Women Establishment[edit]

Dubai Women Establishment, led by Her Highness Shaikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is the first government entity in the UAE that supports and focuses on women in the workforce. The main objective is to increase effective participation of Emirati women in the workforce through different means and tools. They look at international reports and rankings and monitor the UAE rankings and growth, and aim to positively impact Gobal Competitive reports & the Gender Gap report. DWE is involved with research, policy proposals, and activation of women-related regulations in Dubai and the other Emirates, as well as attending networking events and forums, and working on customised development programs, projects and initiatives. They aim is building bridges, sustainable leadership for women, international representation of Emirati women and women in boards. Impact of DWE includes creation of six on-site children’s nurseries at various organisations, which has led to a higher level of female retention and lower turnover rate and Women in Board initiative, where special attention is given to increasing Emirati female representation in boardrooms.[9][10]

The Arab Women Leadership Forum[edit]

The Arab Women Leadership Forum, took place in November 2014, which was hosted under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai. This two-day forum focused on competitiveness and how women can contribute to the rankings and growth of countries[9]

Throughout the history of the region, women have been a vital part of society. When the men of what is now the UAE left for up to four months to work in the pearling and fishing industries, the women were responsible for the family´s agricultural needs and for raising children. This was not an easy task in the desert´s harsh landscape and women were respected both for their ability to work the land and because the Quran requires it.

The role of women in the UAE has grown in line with the country's development. The Supreme Council members have been committed to improving women´s lives since the beginning of the Federation.

As the late President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan said, "Nothing could delight me more than to see the woman taking up her distinctive position in society ... Nothing should hinder her progress ... Like men, women deserve the right to occupy high positions according to their capabilities and qualifications."

The right of UAE women to take part in the development of all areas of their society is laid out in the UAE Constitution, adopted when the federation was founded in 1971. It states that social justice should apply to all and that, before the law, women are equal to men. They enjoy the same legal status, claim to titles and access to education. They have the right to practice the profession of their choice. Moreover, in accordance with the Islamic principles upon which the Constitution is based, women are guaranteed the right to inherit property. Although women had these rights before the unification of the emirates, the Constitution reinforced them in legal terms that applied throughout the country.

In order to implement the late Sheikh Zayed's vision of a modern society based on Arab and Islamic traditions, his wife Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak has worked tirelessly to promote the role of women since the creation of the Federation. She founded the first women's society in the country, the Abu Dhabi Women's Society, on the 8th of February 1973. In 1975, the First Lady went on to unite all the women's organisations in the UAE as the UAE Women's Federation. The UAE Women's Federation is an autonomous body with its own budget and planning. Its priority in the early days of the UAE was to promote education amongst women. Now that this goal has been met, the Federation focuses on comprehensive social planning, including the role of women in the workplace.

Illiteracy, which affected up to 85 percent of UAE women at the outset of the federation, had fallen to 7.6 percent by 2005, with female participation at elementary and middle schools equaling that of their male counterparts. In subsequent years, national women have surpassed UAE men and now account for 56.3 percent of students at schools and 70.8 percent of students attending university.

Sheikha Latifa bint Hamdan, wife of the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, demonstrated great support for the women of Dubai, working hard to ensure that they received a solid education.

The wife of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Sheikha Hind bint Maktoum bin Juma Al Maktoum, is also an active campaigner for greater opportunities for UAE women and is convinced that they are ready to take on political roles. In an interview with Al Maraa Al Youm (Today's Woman) magazine she stated that the UAE woman has become intellectually, psychologically and socially qualified to take on any position in any field.

Dubai´s Ruler Sheikh Mohammed is also renowned for his respect and support of women. In accordance with his directives, the Intelaq project was launched in order to encourage women in governmental departments.

UAE women have taken advantage of the educational opportunities available after the discovery of oil; more and more women are continuing on to higher education. The majority of students at UAE University and the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) are women. Besides the traditional fields of education and health, there are many women graduates working in various disciplines such as engineering, science, media and communications, computer technology, law, commerce, and the oil industry.

The percentage of female employees participating in the workforce quadrupled between 1980 and 1990, with the total number of national females working in all fields reaching 100,000 by 2010.

There is a women's corps within the Armed Forces, and a women's military training college has been established in Abu Dhabi, bearing the name of one the great heroines of Arab history, Khawla bint Al Azwar.

[11] At Dubai Police College, the highest-ranked graduates of a six-month training course are invited to join the VIP Protection Corps. Their work demands that the members of the Corps stay in the best possible physical and mental shape. Presently there are 20 women in this squad. Their presence is vital, as many of the people requiring protection are women, and in an Islamic country it is preferable for them to have female bodyguards.

The women of the UAE are actively involved in their country's development.

Sheikh Mohammed said, "Arab women are half our community. Sometimes better than men. Perhaps in the past we lagged behind, but today she is growing to better heights in our society and is able to achieve goals within our communities. She will only grow."[12]

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.[7] In September 2008, Hassa Al Otaiba and Sheikha Najla Al Qasimi became the UAE’s first female ambassadors, serving Spain and Sweden respectively.[13]


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.”[14] 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.[15][15] According to Dubai Women’s College, 50-60% of its 2,300 students proceed to seek employment upon graduation.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Global Gender Gap Report 2013" (PDF). World Economic Forum. pp. 12–13. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Kuwait: Selected Issues and Statistical Appendix". International Monetary Fund. 2012. p. 43. 
  3. ^ a b "Divorcees, widows concerned about receiving ‘permission’ before remarrying". 
  4. ^ "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.
  5. ^ The Emirati Workforce Page 30
  6. ^ Glass, Amy. "Working women contribute US$3.4bn to the UAE’s economy". Arabian Business (December 2007).
  7. ^ a b "Women in the United Arab Emirates: A Portrait of Progress" (PDF). UAE Ministry of State and Federal National Council Affairs (June 2007).
  8. ^ “The 100 Most Powerful Women.” Forbes (2007).
  9. ^ a b http://vision.ae/articles/why_emirati_women_are_taking_notes_on_the_swedish_workplace
  10. ^ http://www.dwe.gov.ae/index.aspx
  11. ^ http://www.sheikhmohammed.co.ae/vgn-ext-templating/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=7d3c4c8631cb4110VgnVCM100000b0140a0aRCRD&vgnextfmt=default
  12. ^ http://www.sheikhmohammed.co.ae/vgn-ext-templating/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=7d3c4c8631cb4110VgnVCM100000b0140a0aRCRD&vgnextfmt=default
  13. ^ "Sheikha Fatima hails ability of UAE women to undertake national responsibilities." The National Media Council: UAE Interact (September 2008).
  14. ^ UNDP Millennium Development Goals United Arab Emirates Report (PDF), p. 14 (March 2007).[dead link]
  15. ^ a b "On "Human rights day", Emirates first among Arab countries and (95%) women's participation in higher education.". mohesr.gov.ae. Retrieved 2015-02-07. 
  16. ^ "Dubai Women Storm World of Work". BBC News (August 2005).