The UAE is ranked as a leading country in gender equality in the region, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap report. This achievement comes from the fundamental belief that women and men are equal partners in society. Through a series of public and private sector initiatives, women are playing an increasingly stronger role in business, government and STEM fields.
Demonstrating the UAE’s progress in women’s inclusion, justice and security, the UAE is ranked 24th among 170 countries and the highest regionally in the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security’s 2021 WPS Index.
Gender equality is of paramount importance in the UAE, and the Constitution of the UAE guarantees equal rights for both men and women. Under the Constitution, women enjoy the same legal status, claim to titles, access to education, the right to practice professions, and the right to inherit property as men. Women are also guaranteed the same access to employment, health and family welfare facilities. As a leader of equality in economics, government, education and health, the UAE has been named one of the region’s pioneers.
Equality in Education and Literacy
While the literacy rate of both women and men in the UAE is close to 95%, today, more women than men complete secondary education and enroll in university and post-graduate institutions.
- 77% of Emirati women enroll in higher education after secondary school and make up 70% of all university graduates in the UAE.
- 56% of UAE government university graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are women.
- The literacy rate of women in the UAE is 95.8%.
- In September 2014, the UAE opened the region’s first military college for women, Khawla bint Al Azwar Military School. The state-of-the-art military college provides world-class training, physical fitness sessions and leadership development. The UAE has four women fighter pilots and has also trained over 30 women to work with the country’s special security forces.
Women in Business
Women in the UAE participate actively in the private sector in various roles. They have equal rights to economic resources, including guaranteed equal pay, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws.
- The UAE had the highest number of women on Forbes' 100 Most Powerful Arab Businesswomen in 2020 with 23 Emirati women on the list.
- Women business-owners account for 10% of the total private sector in the UAE.
- 23,000 Emirati businesswomen run projects worth over AED50 billion, and occupy 15% of the positions in the boards of chambers of commerce and industry nationwide.
- In 2021, the UAE Security and Commodities Authority issued a mandate that listed companies must have at least one woman on their board of directors.
Women in Government
Women’s participation is particularly strong in the public sector. In fact, women hold two-thirds of public sector jobs in the UAE, with 30% in leadership roles and 15% in technical and academic roles.
Highlighting the importance of gender in policy dialogue, the UAE’s Gender Balance Council is a federal entity responsible for developing and implementing initiatives and projects to enhance gender balance. The Council aims to reduce the gender gap across all government sectors and achieve gender balance in decision-making positions.
Nine women serve in the UAE Cabinet—including Shamma Al Mazrui, who serves as Minister of State for Youth Affairs. When she was appointed at the age of 22 in 2016, she became the youngest minister in the world.
In September of 2013, HE Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh became the UAE’s first female Permanent Representative to the UN and the fifth woman in the country to serve as an Ambassador. She was elected President of the UN Women Executive Board in 2017, the first Arab female president to lead the Board. Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh was also elected as Vice President for the 2017 United Nations General Assembly, representing the Asia-Pacific Group of Member States.
Women comprise 50% of the Federal National Council (FNC), the UAE’s consultative parliamentary body. According to the IMF World Competitiveness Yearbook 2020, the UAE ranked first in the female parliamentary representation index.
In November 2015, Dr. Amal Al Qubaisi was appointed President of the FNC, making her the first woman in the region to lead a national assembly. She served in the position until 2019. Dr. Al Qubaisi had previously made history in 2006 as the first elected female to the FNC and in 2011 was appointed deputy speaker of the FNC.
In October 2008, the first female judge was sworn in. Four women have been appointed as judges, two as public prosecutors and 17 as assistant public prosecutors and marriage officials. In March 2019, two female judges were appointed to the Federal Judiciary for the first time.
Women make up 20% of the diplomatic corps, and the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has appointed seven Emirati women as ambassadors to represent the country internationally.
Meeting and Exceeding International Standards
In 2004, the UAE became a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The UAE regularly participates in and hosts international conferences on women’s issues and has signed all international treaties on protecting the rights of women. Among these are the Child Protection Convention (1997), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW, (2004), the Hours of Work (Industry) Convention (1982), the Equal Remuneration Convention (1996), the Convention concerning Night Work of Women Employed in Industry (1982) and the Convention on Minimum Age (1996).
The UAE has also provided support for women’s empowerment programs through multilateral institutions. In 2016, the UAE opened a regional office for UN Women in Abu Dhabi, the first in the region. It has donated over $26 million to the organization since its founding in 2010 and ranked first in the Arab world and tenth globally in resource contribution in 2020. In November 2017, the UAE pledged $50 million to the World Bank’s Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative fund.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report for 2021, the UAE was one of the region’s best-performing countries, having closed 71.6% of their overall gender gap. The UAE also saw a reduction of the gap with regard to legislators, senior officials and managers, and healthy life expectancy.