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Women in the UAE: nurturing a nation

posted on 30/03/2016: 2783 views

By: Noura Al Kaabi is UAE Minister of State for Federal National Council Affairs

The ‘Mother of the Nation' Festival, held in Abu Dhabi over the past few days to pay tribute to Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the General Women's Union (GWU), Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation (FDF) and President of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, is truly historic for several reasons.

First of all, an entire nation united in gratitude for the immense contributions made by a living person is rare in the annals of nation states. Second, the person thus honoured being a symbol and paragon of munificence and empowered womanhood is in itself unprecedented. Third, the contributions made by the honouree are not a matter of vague abstractions, but of tangible and measurable achievements for which her country continues to receive rich praise across the world.

Last, but not the least, the historically rare epithet ‘mother of the nation' for Sheikha Fatima is reflective of a national mindset that not only values the multiple functions and meanings associated with femininity and motherhood, but also captures the essence of a country in which the empowerment of women is not a hollow slogan but a verifiable fact that permeates every sphere of public life. The uniqueness of the UAE's illustrious track record in women's empowerment must be reiterated here: the country was able to usher its tremendously talented womenfolk into all spheres of public life without jettisoning its glorious traditions and time-tested heritage.

It is precisely in the context of this unique Emirati modernity that we celebrate and commemorate the transformative and nurturing role that Sheikha Fatima has played. She has never ceased to expend efforts and energies for the welfare and well-being of the women and children of this country. For her, the women represented a massive repository of talents and capabilities necessary for the daunting task of nation building, while the children embodied the future of the nation and its real wealth.

Sheikha Fatima dedicated herself to the noble task of nurturing both the women and children of the UAE for their larger roles. That the UAE is the happiest Arab nation and that its women are among the most empowered in the region are clear testimony to the success of the mission she took up at the time of UAE's establishment. The establishment of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood in 2003 under her astute leadership was a visionary step in the direction of focusing attention on identifying and nurturing the competencies and capabilities of UAE women. Later, such societies were established in other emirates too; all of them worked in unison to coordinate their efforts and goals. Headed by Sheikha Fatima, the General Women's Union of the UAE was established on August 27, 1975.

Loyal partners

On the one hand, these organisations served to institutionalise the care and protection of women and children. That in itself was of utmost importance in its time. On the other, they went far beyond the usual concerns of welfare and protection; they sought to unearth the untapped potential of UAE women and involve them in the service of the young nation.

In retrospect, it is amazing that Sheikha Fatima had the perspicacity to attach crucial importance to the three spheres that mattered most in preparing a nation for its historical destiny: education, culture and health. Her vision entailed the nurturing of educated, cultured and healthy womanhood in the country. She had realised early on that the UAE's women had to serve as loyal partners in the making of the new nation, just as they always played their crucial role as the glue that kept the families together for long centuries.

Eight women, including a 22-year-old minister for youth affairs, hold ministerial positions in the UAE Cabinet. On a personal note, I must add here that but for the efforts of Sheikha Fatima in empowering women in all walks of life, I, or for that matter my other female colleagues in the cabinet, would not have been where we are today.

Women constitute 20 per cent of the UAE's Federal National Council. The Speaker of the Federal National Council is a woman. Three of the UAE's ambassadors, one consul general and the UAE's Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York are women. Four women have been appointed judges, two as public prosecutors and 17 as assistant public prosecutors and marriage officials. Women constitute 66 per cent of the public sector workforce, with 30 per cent in senior and decision-making positions. 95 per cent of female high-school graduates pursue further education at tertiary-level institutions. Women constitute almost two-thirds of students attending government universities and over half at private tertiary-level institutions. 46 per cent of the country's graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are women.

The Mother of the Nation Festival is a mark of respect and a gesture of gratitude for these remarkable attainments made possible by the dedicated and protracted efforts of Sheikha Fatima. It is an occasion to honour motherhood, celebrate our great legacy of care and generosity, and strengthen our resolve to make the UAE one of the best countries in the world. – Gulf News -


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