Archaic stereotypes of women who are not allowed to drive, treated as second-class citizens and discouraged to work often dominate Western perceptions of the Middle East.
However, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), for example, is proof of a rapid and successful development story in the region, in terms of both its infrastructure and economic growth and also the progress of its people, specifically with regard to gender parity.
A grand ceremony will be hosted on Tuesday, Oct. 18, to mark the opening of the United Nations (UN) Women Liaison Office for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The General Women’s Union (GWU), which plays a fundamental role in empowering women in the UAE at all levels, is the organizer of the event.
The UN Women Liaison Office for the GCC became a reality following an agreement signed recently by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri and UAE Assistant Minister for Legal Affairs Abdulrahim Al Awadi.
Leaders of the UAE’s women's rights movements and top UN officials including Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, will attend the event, which will be held under the patronage of Fatima bint Mubarak, chairwoman of GWU, supreme president of the Family Development Foundation (FDF) and head of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood.
Jumana Abu Hannoud, cofounder of REACH, the first nonprofit organization dedicated to structured mentoring and leadership development for female professionals in the Middle East, spoke to Gulf News Journal about the launch of the UN Women Liaison Office for the GCC and its significance of improving gender equality and the empowerment of women in the region.
“Due to the visionary leadership of Her Highness Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, chairperson of the GWU, the UN Women-UAE partnership has reached a new level with the signing of this agreement, opening the way for enhanced and strengthened collaboration to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls,” Abu Hannoud said. “The inauguration of the UN Women Liaison Office is reflective of the guidance and political will that the UAE government has shown towards the advancement of gender equality and women’s empowerment.”
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index — which is based on equality of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment and health — the UAE does best among GCC countries.
That said, being 109th out of 136 nations leaves much to be developed and achieved.
“Policy leaders must continue to work together to advance the status of women in the region,” Abu Hannoud said. “It is understood that new UN Liaison Office will focus on partnership development in the area of policy advice and political advocacy — this is a major feat in terms of developing gender equality and women’s empowerment in the GCC.”
Advancements toward gender parity, beyond incentivizing women to pursue higher education or increasing female participation in the workforce, need to ensure women reach leadership positions to which they aspire, she added. There is no simple, quick solution to the challenges that women face reaching the top of the ladder. Instead, a concentrated effort by all decision makers and individuals is required to make gender equality a reality in the GCC.
With headquarters in New York, liaison offices in Belgium, Denmark, Japan and now the UAE, and 89 country offices around the world, UN Women works to remove barriers to equal opportunities for women and girls and to ensure that laws and commitments on gender equality and women’s empowerment are fully implemented.
“The UAE leadership has high aspirations for women, and as the country becomes increasingly aligned to UN standards, we believe the recognition of women as key contributors will continue to grow,” Abu Hannoud said. “Gender parity is a progressive goal and one which will prove key to both the UAE’s and GCC’s ongoing growth and future prosperity.”