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The Women in Public Service Project

Women Behind the Scenes

How Modernity is Catching on Before Law in the
United Arab Emirates

institutions has increased to 62 percent.1

There is something fitting that one Although literacy rates of both wom-
of the most progressive and rapidly en and men in the UAE are close to 95
percent, more women than men complete
modernizing countries in the Middle secondary education and enroll in univer-
East was given many of its most sity and post-graduate education.2
significant mandates by a woman. Emirati women, in their federal absolute
monarchy, are also outshining their male
Long before oil was discovered in this
counterparts in secondary school and
small but highly influential, elegant coun-
university. Ten percent of male students
try perched on the Gulf coast of Saudi
drop out, but only two percent of female
Arabia, between Qatar and Oman, Her
students leave school prematurely.3 While
Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak
there is room for improvement, the UAE
Al Ketbi, wife of the founding President
enjoys one of the highest rates of female
His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al
workforce participation in the Gulf at 47
Nahyan, insisted that women attend the
percent, after Qatar (51 percent) and be-
two-room school in the village of Al Ain,
fore Kuwait (43 percent).4 Two thirds (66
Dr. Kent where her husband was governor in 1971.
percent) of the public sector workforce
Davis-Packard Sheikha Fatima, as she is called by Emi-
in the UAE is made up of women (the
ratis, went from family to family, giving
average global rate is only 48 percent),
Adjunct Professor, Middle out food rations to convince them to send
with 30 percent of those women in senior
East Studies and American their daughters to the school. Years later,
Foreign Policy Programs,
and decision-making positions.5 Women
after the collection of seven cities in the
The Paul H. Nitze School own 50 percent of small and medium en-
region united to form the United Arab
of Advanced International terprises.6 When asked about conditions
Emirates (UAE), one of the presidents
Studies, Johns Hopkins in the workplace, the Emirati women
advisors met a genetic scientist who was a
University; Former Council interviewed voiced few complaints in
graduate of that school. Today, under the
on Foreign Relations Fellow fact, one senior level woman who had also
influence of Sheikha Fatima and many
and Visiting Scholar at The experienced part of her professional life in
other Emirati leaders, the number of fe-
Brookings Institution the United States said she felt less sexism
male graduates across all higher education
Women Behind the Scenes: How Modernity is Catching on Before
Law in the United Arab Emirates

Executive Summary
Through the Delphi method,1 this paper offers a new perspective from the voices of Emirati
women in politics, policy, business, and university on the status of women in their country
Gwen K.Young, in light of the international treaties, conventions, and laws available for womens empow-
Director erment.2 Drawing on true stories from daily life, it reveals that culture in the UAE is in
the process of changing. Despite criticism from some human rights organizations and UN
Marie A. Principe, member states with regard to the UAEs reservations to the Convention on the Elimination
Program Associate of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Emirati women concede that
Althea Lloyd, they have made unprecedented gains ahead of some legal reforms deemed necessary by the
Program Coordinator international community for women to achieve their full rights in the country.
Ellysse Dick,
With eight women ministers out of 29 total cabinet members, 70 percent women univer-
Communications Assistant
sity graduates, and an increasing number of women pursuing science, technology, engi-
neering and mathematics (STEM), among other achievements, an unspoken set of cultural
Special thanks to Gwen
norms has developed in the face of restrictive family laws and traditional, and, according to
K.Young and Marie A.
some women, outmoded cultural practices. This paper examines the mechanisms by which
Principe for editing this
the UAE achieved this culture change, drawing on Emiratis answers to the major ques-
document and Ellysse Dick
tions of this era with regard to the global womens movement and their position within it.
and the Wilson Center
Emiratis address whether there is a womens movement in the UAE; what women leaders
design team for design and
bring to the table; the challenges Emirati women still face; the relationship between Islam
and womens rights; and the UAEs influence with regard to womens rights on the region
and globally.
About the The interviews suggest that Emirati families are naturally more inclined today to promote
their daughters education and choice of career, husband, and other life decisions despite
Women in having restrictive laws available to them to curtail such freedoms. It concludes that these
Public Service cultural changes are the side-, if not directly intended, effect of a top-down strategy by
the Emirati government in which women leaders, by their very existence, make it possible
Project for a new national identity vis--vis Islam to come into play. As the state embraces both
womens leadership and Sharia, Sharia is used less and less as a tool to restrict womens
The Women in Public Ser-
rights, and womens rights and the states religious identity are naturally de-conflicted. In
vice Project will accelerate
a country that must navigate an Islamic identity, it may at times be beneficial to proceed
global progress towards
first by example rather than legal reforms that appear to contradict Sharia in order to avoid
womens equal participa-
triggering backlash that could undermine progress.
tion in policy and political
leadership to create more These conclusions offer a new context by which to transcend the limitations of the en-
dynamic and inclusive in- trenched debate within the international human rights community between cultural
stitutions that leverage the relativists and those who view human rights as universal.3 On this third path, culture
full potential of the worlds transcends organically from within as a result of silent but profoundly powerful example,
population to change the and in the context of Muslim societies, modernity or womens liberation no longer
way global solutions are holds dramatic consequences for relations between the sexes.4 Finally, the case of the UAE
forged. provokes an interesting question about definitions of democratic governance and democ-
racys relationship to womens empowerment and freedom. In comparing the UAE to the
United States, for example, the papers findings reveal that, as with legal reform, women are
Cover photo: Jack Brewer via only truly empowered when there is a change in culture and consciousness within a society,
Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) regardless of whether its government is labeled a democracy or an absolute monarchy. It
is the putting into practice of the principles of democracy, rather than merely its procedur-
al elements such as elections by majority, that leads to progress.
The Women in Public Service Project

About the Author

Kent Davis-Packard is a professor of Middle East Studies and American Foreign Policy at the Johns Hopkins School of
Advanced International Studies (SAIS), where she is directing a new curricular path to mainstream the study of wom-
ens contributions to international relations. Most recently, she was co-Executive Director of Womens Learning Part-
nership, a partnership of 20 international womens organizations located in primarily Muslim-majority countries. She
holds a Ph.D. in Middle East studies and international law from SAIS. In 2014-2015, she was a Council on Foreign
Relations Fellow at the Brookings Institution and Guest Scholar and lecturer at the American University in Cairo. As
a Presidential Management Fellow, Davis-Packard played a key role in launching the State Departments Women in
Public Service Project. She also managed the Egypt Desks human rights portfolio and served as a U.S. Department
of Defense country desk officer in Iraq; and as a U.S. Department of State political officer in Syria. Davis-Packard
holds a masters degree in conflict management and economics from SAIS; a masters degree in French and romance
philology from Columbia University and in French literature from the Universite de Paris VIII; and a BA in English
and Comparative Literature summa cum laude from Cornell University. A Fulbright Scholar to Morocco and fluent in
French, Spanish, and able in Arabic, Davis-Packard has reported on such topics as family law reform, sectarianism and
extremism, the womens movement, labor, and language politics for the Christian Science Monitor and other publica-
tions including the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

in the UAE than she did in a major metropolis permission to marry, travel, and work, among
in the United States. In a similar vein, the UAEs other major life choices.8 Men can unilaterally
Permanent Representative to the United Nations, divorce their wives while women must apply for a
the first woman to hold the position, Ambassador court order. Women must be obedient to their
Lana Nusseibeh, remarked that after studying and husbands, including maintaining the house and
living in the United Kingdom for over a decade its belongings. Women lose their right to main-
she felt there was no difference between the glass tenance if they refuse to have sexual relations
ceiling in the United Kingdom and the UAE. If without a lawful excuse.
anything, she said, there were more opportunities At the same time, over 50 countries, including
for talented women in the UAE because of the most Western European countries, have signed on
affirmative push from the government on this to the Convention with reservations, declarations,
agenda.The UAE is really a talent-based society, or objections. While a few of these statements
she said from her office at the UAE Mission in benefit women, most of them seek to allow these
New York. You produce and you deliver, and you countries to privilege their constitutional or inter-
achieve the goals that you strive for. nal government autonomy over the provisions of
Human rights organizations are quick to criti- CEDAW, further limiting womens rights in those
cize the UAE for maintaining reservations to the countries. Globally, only six UN member states
Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of have not ratified CEDAW, including the United
Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW),7 an States, and yet there is no country in which all
international agreement it ratified in 2014. Most forms of discrimination against women have been
Arab countries make reservations for mainly the eliminated. There is almost universal consensus
same reasons the possibility of contradicting among analysts that the ratification of CEDAW
Sharia law which, according to interpreta- did not bring any qualitative change because of
tions, calls for a male guardian to grant a woman the weakness of this legal instrument per se, and

Women Behind the Scenes: How Modernity is Catching on Before
Law in the United Arab Emirates

because of the numerous reservations placed by Meanwhile, women liv-

the Arab MENA states on it.9 As telling evidence ing in democracies, espe-
for CEDAWs inability to make an impact in cially the United States,
Arab countries even in cases in which they have still complain daily of
removed all reservations Tunisia and Morocco, sexism in the workplace,
for example women continue to experience unequal pay for the same
discrimination in all sectors and in family law.10 work, expensive child-
The Tunisian government even declared that, care, and the inability
despite removing all reservations to CEDAW, it to rejoin the workforce
would not enforce any provisions that it believes after having children. On
contradict Article One of the Tunisian constitu- January 21, 2017, more
tion that is, any provisions that are deemed in than 3.3 million women
violation of Sharia law.11 and men joined womens
marches in over 500 U.S. Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh
This does not mean the UAE should not remove
cities under what should Photo: UN Women (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
its reservations to CEDAW, but the immense
be an obvious concept by
progress it has made without doing so is worth a
now the motto wom-
closer analysis. In 2015, the UAE ranked first in
ens rights are human rights and an estimated
the GCC and third in the Arab world in gender
2.5 million people participated in nearly 700
equality according to the Gender Inequality Index
rallies globally.15 The United States also ranks
of the Human Development Report.12 The UAEs
lower than the UAE in womens representation in
Gender Balance Council is leading efforts to
its 114th legislative equivalents (19.3 percent in
achieve the UAEs goal of being of the worlds top
the Senate and 20 percent in the Congress). The
25 countries for gender equality by 2021. At the
new UAE Cabinet announced in February 2016
Dubai Womens Forum in February 2016, Chris-
includes eight women (27 percent of the total
tine Lagarde, Managing Director of the Interna-
cabinet members). Nine women hold seats within
tional Monetary Fund (IMF), remarked that the
the Federal National Council (FNC) almost 25
UAE has a good story to be told about female
percent of the FNCs membership and women
empowerment and can set standards for govern-
make up 20 percent of the diplomatic corps. In
ments elsewhere in the world.13
November 2015, Dr. Amal Al Qubaisi became
In what is sometimes called the largest construc- president of the FNC, making her the first wom-
tion site on Earth, there was no major womens an in the Middle East to lead a national assembly.
movement, no protests, no public debate on She previously had made history in 2006 as the
sexism or pay in the workplace, and yet some first elected female to the FNC and in 2011 was
Emirati women claim they have never felt more appointed its Deputy Speaker.
freedom.14 As Ambassador Nusseibeh remarked,
How did this many women in the UAE come
Its not the same debate or the same cultural con-
to hold leadership positions, despite laws that in
versation you see in other parts of the Arab world
theory and in practice hold women back from
we dont have debates about whether women
such achievements? Is the situation in the country
should be in parliament they just are. We dont
truly as good as Emirati women depict it? What
have conversations about whether women should
are the challenges that remain and how does this
be active players in society or in the workforce it
newly born monarchy outrank in some respects
has always been that way since the founding of
the status of women in the United States and
the country.
other democracies? The purpose of this paper is

The Women in Public Service Project

to generate new perspectives on what is actually Part I: Womens Empowerment

happening to the status of women in the UAE,
despite the laws, specifically within the context as a Fast-Forward to Modernity
of a state that has to navigate both an Islamic
identity and modernity associated with the West. Is there a womens movement in the UAE?16
The papers findings invite the reader to consider
the surprising relationship between leadership by Scholars have called the type of womens move-
implication, culture, and the status of women. Its ment that exists in the UAE state feminism,17 as
scope is both specific in its analysis of the impact it is mainly a top-down approach. Indeed, there
of culture change in the UAE as well as broad in are few, if any, organizations in the UAE that
its conclusions about what truly matters when it advance women that are not government affiliat-
comes to ideal leadership. ed. Noura al Kaabi, Minister of State for Federal
National Council Affairs and Chairwoman of the
From a young novelist and Rhodes scholar, to the Media Zone Authority-Abu Dhabi and twofour54
ruler of Sharjah, to businesswomen and regular and Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company
students, to senior level diplomats and cabinet (ADNEC Group) described the many govern-
members, a wide range of Emirati women offered ment-sponsored annual events in which she
their insights over a three-month period from often participates as a speaker, including Emirati
October to December 2016. They comment on Womens Day, the activities of the General Wom-
whether there is a womens movement in the ens Union, which was established as an umbrella
UAE; the mechanisms by which the UAE has organization for all womens organizations in the
made so much progress on womens leadership; UAE in 1975 by Shaikha Fatima, and the Dubai
what women leaders bring to the table; the chal- Women Establishment, launched in 2006. The
lenges Emirati women still face; the relationship Dubai Women Establishment sponsors the Arab
between Islam and womens rights; and the UAEs Womens Leadership Forum, the Emirates Leaders
influence on the region and globally. Gathering, professional development workshops,
From their experiences one can draw surprising the National Corporate Child Care project, the
conclusions about how progress with regard to Women on Boards Initiative, among many other
womens leadership and empowerment might programs.
occur in a region in which The UAE government has made a concerted effort
the exigencies of religion to regularly participate in and host international
come into play at the and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) confer-
level of national identity ences on womens issues and has signed all inter-
by means of the law. Their national treaties on protecting the rights of wom-
answers provide insights en, including the Child Protection Convention
on how a government and (1997), the Hours of Work (Industry) Conven-
society can navigate both tion (1982), the Equal Remuneration Convention
an Islamic and modern, if (1996), the Convention concerning Night Work
not secular, identity. They of Women Employed in Industry (1982) and the
provoke reflection on the Convention on Minimum Age (1996). In 2012,
limits of modern democra- the UAE passed a law calling for mandatory fe-
cy, legal reform, and what male representation on all boards of governmental
H.E. Minister Noura al Kaabi it truly means to be free. corporations and bodies. It was the first country
Photo:World Economic Forum via Flickr (CC
BY-NC-SA 2.0) in the region to implement such a law.

Women Behind the Scenes: How Modernity is Catching on Before
Law in the United Arab Emirates

Dubai Abulhoul Alfalasi, an womens movement is often associated

exuburant New York Univer- with the more recent Green Revolution.19
sity Abu Dhabi undergrad- While their movement has been violently
uate student and novelist on suppressed, there is no question that Iranian
her way to Oxford next year women are culturally ahead of the laws un-
as a Rhodes Scholar, says this der which they live. A similar trend can be
top-down approach reflects seen among Emirati women, though their
a desire already present with- governments trajectory has been different.
in the Emirati population And while it is difficult to call state femi-
especially among youth nism a movement, perhaps the UAE gov-
who do not feel they need to ernment does represent something new in
start womens organizations Dubai Abulhoul Alfalasi the region it seems to constantly push the
or rally around one particu- Photo: Dubai Abulhoul Alfalasi
limits of what is acceptable in traditional
lar issue or another because Emirati society. Even the UAE ambassador
the government has provided different outlets to to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, was caught
push for empowerment, and is aligned with these by surprise when he saw the royal motorcade at
movements. the Dubai Air Show recently. When they took
While the government provides many outlets off their helmets, he discovered, they were all
through which Emiratis can empower women, ac- women riding motorcycles! I dont see women
tivists within the country and internationally have motorcade riders in the U.S. I dont see them in
criticized the UAE for co-opting human rights Europe, he exclaimed. One might argue that this
movements and for the absence of independent- is simply another manifestation of gender segrega-
ly run NGOs in the country. The governments tion rather than gender equality. However, wom-
control over the birth of independent rights en also comprise a larger share of science, tech-
movements has meant that it is heavily involved nology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)
in issues it deems central to the UAEs success, graduates than men in the UAE,20 working side
and it continues to claim that one of those issues by side with men in these fields, and the President
is womens empowerment. The co-opting of of the Emirates Scientists Council is a woman
the womens movement is not a new phenome- 29-year-old Sara Al Ameri.21 In 2015, the UAE
non in the Middle East. In Iran, both the Pahlavi Government Summit launched two initiatives
monarchs and the post-1979 revolution Islamist to promote women in STEM: the UAE Gender
regime championed the movements. During the Balance Council and the UAE Robots and Arti-
Pahlavi periods, as Parvin Paidar notes, the policy ficial Intelligence for Good award. Our view is
suited not only the state but also women who that half our population is women, affirmed Al
used family and state connections as an oppor- Otaiba. And if we dont employ them and utilize
tunity to enter into formal politics and influence them and benefit from them and invest in them
social policy. It took a revolution for the womens then at best we would be operating at 50 percent
movement to break free [temporarily] from being capacity.
seen as a discredited venture at the service of the Al Otaiba, the youthful ambassador and graduate
state or as foreign colonial importation.18 of Georgetown University, explained that al-
Interestingly, the states role in promoting wom- though there is no formalized grassroots womens
ens education in Iran, regardless of its motives, movement in the UAE, it is not because women
led to an unspoken transformation in conscious- are not being empowered there. I think as far
ness among women. They mobilized; the Iranian as the UAEs concerned, were well ahead of the

The Women in Public Service Project

curve in terms of what women have been empow- unlike many other countries in the region, had
ered to do already, he remarked. So I dont think the advantage of not having to associate moder-
theres a movement trying to overcome it. We nity with the West. Western imperialists had not
kind of grew up seeing that this is normal. But imposed cultural norms on them, which signifi-
how did it become normal? cantly reduced the amount of backlash to modern
ideas. Where modernity marked a power rela-
tionship that other Arab populations confronted
How have so many women achieved
through resistance and more conservative cultural
leadership positions in the UAE? interpretations of Islam25 that led to restrictions
Why has the UAE leadership dedicated so much on womens freedom,26 it thrived in the UAE, and
energy and resources to placing women in high women benefitted. While the laws did not neces-
positions? Historians explain that it is associated sarily differ greatly from other Arab countries that
claim to adhere to Sharia, the cultural practices
Part of fitting in with the global did.
community required raising the status The overall trajectory of Emirati womens polit-
ical and policy participation took time, how-
of women. ever. It took from the 1970s when women
were seen primarily in their role as mothers
with the Emirati leaderships desire to modernize and wives27 to 2004 to see the appointment of
quickly. The country went from extreme poverty the first woman cabinet member. Sheikha Lubna
where pearl diving merchants represented the Khalid Al Qasimi broke the glass ceiling not
only chance at economic prosperity to extreme only by becoming a minister but overseeing a
wealth, after the discovery of oil in the 1950s.22 domain traditionally occupied by men, when she
Sheikh Zayad quickly recognized that his country was appointed the UAEs Minister of Economy.28
not only had to sell oil, but be able to relate to the She subsequently held the positions of Minister
modern, global business community in order to of Foreign Trade in 2008, Minister of Interna-
be successful.23 Part of fitting in with this global tional Cooperation and Development, President
community required raising the status of women, of Zayed University in 2014, and today, Minister
which included encouraging their education and of Tolerance. Some
discouraging polygamy. When marriage pros- analysts conjecture
pects for educated women increased because that the appoint-
Emirati men preferred to marry women with ments of female
whom they could relate intellectually, Emirati ministers after 2001
families jumped on board and their girls were came in part as
educated.24 Today, consciousness has evolved a response to the
that it is not necessarily for a marriage prospect terrorist attacks
that Emirati women are educated. of 9/11 in which
But an even more practical reason ensured many Arab coun-
women did not become educated housewives. tries have sought
With a relatively small population, all hands to reframe their
on deck were required. Sheikh Zayad and image to the West.
Sheikha Fatima made certain girls were trained But what is occur-
to contribute their talents and skills to develop- Sheikha Lubna Khalid al Qasimi ring in the UAE is
Photo:The Women in Public Service Project
ing the young nation. In addition, the UAE, a movement by

Women Behind the Scenes: How Modernity is Catching on Before
Law in the United Arab Emirates

implication based on the power of presence in Sheikha Fatima led by example and ultimate-
the public domain.29 The more women start to ly defined womanhood in a unique way in the
successfully occupy leadership positions, the more UAE. Sheikha Fatima provided a role for women
they silently imply change is underway and that was different than in relationship to men
other women (and men) know that women can or the family. While it is arguable that Sheikha
join their ranks. It makes me realize I, too, can Fatimas leadership was attained by proxy to her
reach a high position, said a female engineering husbands position of power and therefore still
student at New York University in Abu Dhabi. based on a patriarchal system, Sheikha Fatimas
Theyve made it, so I can do better. Another fe- legacy and continued efforts to empower women
male student majoring in biochemistry there said in the UAE have led to concrete changes in social
It makes me realize that women are important consciousness. The means by which she attained
in this country and taken seriously and wont be her power have not detracted from the positive
stopped from doing what they want to do. impact of her leadership.
In addition to the practical reasons why the UAE But do Emirati women agree with the popular
government empowers women, Ambassador argument that womens leadership is unique to
Nusseibeh offered another explanation: since the their gender? Do Emirati women bring something
countrys founding, the leaderships belief that new to the table?
women have unique talents to bring to the table
has become part of the fabric of Emirati society,
Do women have unique leadership skills?
which highly values the role of women in public
life.The children of the founding President His There is a preponderance of evidence that sug-
Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan gests that societies are more stable and the econ-
and Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak omy improves dramatically the more women are
Al Ketbi, the First Lady, grew up watching their empowered politically and in the labor force,30
father consult their mother not only on social but this evidence-based argument is often dis-
or womens issues, but on a wide range of top- missed in the UAE as undermining the value of
ics,said Ambassador Nusseibeh. Zaki Nusseibeh all individuals and their unique contributions
Ambassador Nusseibehs father, who served as to professional life as human beings. I think
interpreter and close advisor of the late Sheikh its more negative to look at women as having
Zayed shared that he was struck by the incred- certain attributes because then that contributes
ibly close relation-
ship between the
two the ruler and
his wife by the
way he consulted
and discussed every-
thing with her. In
conversation, Am-
bassador Nusseibeh
made a distinction
between mother in
the traditional sense
and Mother of Since 1950, Dubai has transformed from a village on the banks of Dubai Creek to an expansive modern metropolis.
the Nation in that Photo: Steven Stralton via Flickr (CC-BY 2.0)

The Women in Public Service Project

to a stereotype that perhaps a particular female to the Emirati women interviewees, this kind
leader does not necessarily embody, said Alfala- of feminine leadership has proven effective as
si, who published her first novel about a young a way to introduce positive change behind the
girl and a parallel fantasy world while she was scenes that may otherwise not be accepted.
still in high school so that Emirati girls would
have someone to relate to. In this award-win-
ning novels fantasy world, she says, gender is not Part II: Change Behind the
a factor. The way I would like to think of it, Scenes
reflected Alfalasi, is that each leader, regardless
of whether they are male or female, will bring
certain characteristics and talents into a com- How is the UAE impacting the region
pany as opposed to being brought there simply behind the scenes?
because they are a woman. Minister Al Kaabi One of the trademarks of Emirati influence on
agreed that the conversation should be about the international arena is that the government
what makes a good leader rather than the traits of often works behind the scenes. The Emirati
female leaders. However, she acknowledged that leadership believes a subtle approach is better is
many of the qualities that are traditionally seen because the womens movement by implication
as female traits are crucial to positive leadership can do more to fight extremist ideology than any
for example: instinct, resourcefulness, ability to kind of counter-messaging or propaganda. Only
multitask, emotional intelligence, agility, but that a few months ago Major Mariam Al Mansouri
men could exemplify these qualities as well. She the first woman pilot in the UAE and one of the
stressed the importance of teamwork. Nothing few in the world to lead a strike mission against
is done alone, she said. You always have a team. ISIS strongholds in Syria presented a double
Even the best leaders wont have all the skills insult undermining ISIS. Not only did she launch
themselves, but they will make sure that the right an attack by air on ISIS, but set an example of a
skills are there within the team. woman leading men into battle in the face of an
Still, some Emirati women acknowledged that ideology that considers women as inferior and to
women in the past have not been able to lead be subjugated as sex slaves. In this way, the UAE
with traits traditionally associated with feminini- demonstrated womens skills, courage, and leader-
ty, such as compassion. Interviewees underscored ship role in the region, loosening the ideological
that women should be allowed to exercise what grip the Islamic State could have on its youth.31
are considered feminine qualities without fear In order to reach out to youth and ensure the
that they be considered a sign of weakness. Being next generation is not hijacked by extremism,
a woman, being feminine, having compassion and the government appointed a youth minister who
love, they argued, does not make a leader weak. is, for the first time, young. At 22, HE Shamma
Rather than assuming all women lead in a specifi- Al Mazrui, Minister of Youth, traveled across the
cally feminine style, Emiratis are demonstrating country forming youth councils in each Emirate
a new pattern in which both men and women are and launching a mentoring initiative. She also
encouraged to exhibit leadership styles tradition- started a youth retreat to encourage youth to en-
ally associated with the feminine. This includes gage in innovative projects that bring them happi-
teamwork, compassion and love. These qualities ness. Her leadership, too, inspires young women
are not always easily identifiable in a world in to become leaders by implication, without
which leadership often relies on showmanship, needing to broadcast the fact that she is a woman
press releases, and superficial results. According or focus specifically on gender issues. The govern-

Women Behind the Scenes: How Modernity is Catching on Before
Law in the United Arab Emirates

ments top-down approach is therefore coupled This extends to national representation. Current-
with a bottom up strategy through its empower- ly, there are 38 women ambassadors out of 193
ment of youth and enabling young people, both Permanent Representatives, including only one
women and men, to hold leadership positions. member of the Security Council, Nikki Haley
from the United States, and that is not enough,
At the United Nations, the UAE is also commit-
said Ambassador Nusseibeh.
ted to instigating cultural change behind the
scenes. From the founding of UN Women in
2010, we were one of the top twenty donors and What is the relationship between Islam and
we are the only Arab country in that grouping, womens empowerment in the UAE?
said Ambassador Nusseibeh. We view womens
empowerment as a global priority, and put our Unlike in other countries in the region where
money where our mouth is internationally to sup- womens activism has used citations from religious
port this effort. In 2016, the UAE inaugurated a texts in order to demand womens full and equal
UN Women Liaison Office in Abu Dhabi to facil- rights under the law, Emirati women interviewed
itate UN Womens work in the GCC. The UAE said these citations have not been necessary. Early
hosts this office because it believes that it offers a in the modernization process, however, Sheikha
model for social development for other countries Fatima and Sheikh Zayad did call upon religious
in the region facing similar circumstances. The texts to promote womens employment, including
opening of the Liaison Office was the culmination Quranic sura:32 Men have the portion they have
of a lot of work we were putting into the idea in earned, and women the portion they have earned
New York, said Ambassador Nusseibeh. and the Prophets saying: The most blessed
earning is that which a person gains from his own
At the UN, where only 21 percent of senior labor, as well as the example of Khadija, a suc-
management is female, the UAE is committed cessful businesswoman, first wife of the Prophet,
to driving management reform. The UAE joined and twenty years his senior.32
forces with Colombia in the fall of 2016 to form
a coalition of over 80 like-minded Member States But Emirati women today are not convinced
committed to advocating for gender parity in changes between the early 1970s and today had
senior-level management positions in the UN. anything to do with either what is commonly
Initially founded as a group to promote women called Islamic feminism appealing to religious
candidates for the post of UN Secretary-General, texts to affirm womens rights in predominantly
the Group of Friends for Gender Parity adapted Muslim countries or secularism. These changes
its mandate after the race. It was actually the include parents willingness to allow their daugh-
UAEs proposal, noted Ambassador Nusseibeh, ters to travel and pursue traditionally male-dom-
that this group of Member States should now inated career paths, the dramatic increase in wom-
evolve into a group that demands parity in the en-owned businesses, and the freedom women
appointment of senior officials at the UN. The have to choose when and who they want to marry
group has been working to support the new (and divorce) without negative repercussions. For
Secretary-General in fulfilling his commitments Emirati women, restrictions on women have and
to institutionalizing gender parity at the UN. always will be a cultural issue. In general it is
Ambassador Nusseibeh said of the group, We more social cultural norms that can perhaps be a
realize that as Member States of the Organization, little bit of a barrier I wouldnt call it a religious
we play a part in this processfor example, by society, affirmed businesswoman Najla Midfa.
ensuring that lists of candidates for senior ap- In fact, Emirati women cannot agree whether the
pointments include women from our countries. UAE is a secular or Islamic state many feel

The Women in Public Service Project

they are in neither category. Even though we are human rights groups in which women are limited
a religious society we never ask people what their by traditional practices that restrict their right to
religion is thats not a question that is common work, travel, marry, divorce, inherit, and attain
in our country because we see religion as an custody over their children. Over time, the cultur-
individual and personal matter, affirmed Ambas- al practices have eased without public announce-
ment or formal recognition within the legal codes.
For Emirati women, restrictions on Al-Midfa, Founder of Khayarat, a social enterprise
women have and always will be a that enables Emirati students to make informed
career choices and achieve success in the private
cultural issue. sector, General Manager of Sheraa (Sharjah En-
trepreneurship Council), member of the Board of
sador Nusseibeh. Minister of Tolerance al Qasimi Directors of United Arab Bank, and Vice-Chair of
pointed out that if you look across all Muslim Youth Arab Leaders, was forbidden by her parents
countries from Afghanistan to Morocco do to travel alone to Egypt for work during her first
we look and dress the same? No. Do we practice job in 2000. Midfa broke this family rule. Now,
Sharia in the same way? No. What dominates all her 22-year-old sister does not even need to ask
these societies is culture over religion. permission to travel for her work. Ive seen it in
my own lifetime and my own generation small
Why would Emirati women stress cultural over
things, such as concerts now my sister can go to
religious norms as the contributing factor to
change? What is most interesting in the interview- concerts with friends without causing any family
ee answers is that in attributing restrictive practic- issues, she said. Midfa attributed this new-found
freedom to the preponderance of women in lead-
es to cultural norms, they imply that they can be
transcended more easily than those practices asso- ership in the country. The top-down approach to
ciated with religion. In identifying these practices empowering women in the country has inspired
as cultural, they take the first step in transcending a bottom-up response starting at the most basic
them to something that better meets the needs of unit the family.
progressive societies. Without many changes to legal codes, including
the concept of male guardianship under Sha-
In many ways, this awareness of cultural dynam-
ria-based family law, the UAE has seen astound-
ics embodies the relationship between girls and
ing shifts in its cultural practices, allowing women
women in the UAE and Islam. The rigid, conser-
and girls more and more freedom. The country
vative family laws imposed by Sharia often do
has changed a lot, said Midfa. If you look at the
not actually impact their careers
country in 2000 and where it is today, I used to
as professional women who travel
be the only Emirati woman at work who would
regularly, speak their minds pub-
go down and have coffee with the guys on the
licly, and manage major organiza-
team. While this may have been seen as culturally
tions operating in countries across
inappropriate at the time, today this is under-
the Middle East. There should be
more attention towards understand- stood to be an acceptable part of professional life.
We also have co-education at the university level,
ing individual women in different
which wasnt a widely-available option when I was
cultural and country contexts,
growing up. As the walls of gender-based social
asserted Alfalasi.
segregation have begun to come down, it has led
Indeed, the Emirati womens expe- to a more cohesive and healthier society for both
Najla Midfa rience offers a less black and white
Photo: Najla Midfa women and men.
picture than the one offered by

Women Behind the Scenes: How Modernity is Catching on Before
Law in the United Arab Emirates

youth that transcends the need for

Without many changes to legal codes, Emirati families to prove that they
are devout Muslims or maintain
the UAE has seen astounding shifts in patriarchal structures by restrict-
its cultural practices. ing womens rights.
The rules binding families to traditional cultural When asked to what they at-
norms, including those mandated by conservative tribute these new freedoms, a group of female
interpretations of Islam, seem to be less and less students responded that families saw the problems
relevant or applied by families in the UAE. The that arranged marriages caused and enough wom-
movement by implication seems to have set in en had spoken up about them for people to sim-
motion a pattern that is catching on, behind the ply do away with the practice over the past few
scenes. This is not to say legal reforms should not generations. They also cited the fact that Emirati
accompany these changes, but that culture itself is women could be seen as independent of their hus-
already posing a challenge to conservative inter- bands in high-powered positions. When Ambas-
pretations of Islam and use of the law to restrict sador Nusseibeh took the head of UN Women to
womens rights. In addition, legal reforms could meet with Sheikha Fatima and explained different
spark a backlash that would reverse the cultural programs that have come to the region, Sheikha
gains that are in process and that are required in Fatima stopped her and said: Have you seen my
order to make any eventual legal changes effec- country? have you seen what we have achieved
tive and legitimate. Family laws in the UAE seem here? Wed be happy to have your office, but I
to serve only to formally adhere to conservative want you to look at this model as an example for
interpretations of Sharia, but in reality, the UAE the region and the world.
moves forward by putting women in high posi- Can the UAE model be an example for the
tions without a national debate, and many fami- region? Analysts differ as to how to interpret the
lies are treating women and girls accrding to ideas surge of womens leadership in the country, some
associated with modernity and their personal criticizing the government for appointing women
practice of their faith. leaders based on family connections, for not being
Female university student interviewees noted democratic enough, and for living privileged lives
that they never had to confront the issue of male
guardianship and emphasized that divorce rates in
the UAE were very high, and that women could
choose who and when they wanted to marry, and
whether they wanted to divorce. Now they basi-
cally arent strict about that anymore, affirmed a
female biochemistry student. Is there a law that
men can call upon saying women cannot travel
without permission? asked one female Emirati
student. I do not know and the fact that I do
not know indicates the extent to which it is not
called upon and at least to the best of my knowl-
edge it hasnt been used in that context as well.
While comprehensive data on this subject is not
available in the UAE, these interviews suggest
that a new cultural pattern is emerging among Starbucks in Downtown Abu Dhabi, October 2016
Photo: Kent Davis-Packard

The Women in Public Service Project

at the expense of the majority of its population, Yet there is still much to do. The way institution-
which is comprised of non-nationals working in al structures have developed we inherited codes,
service positions. The next section describes some judges, and a legal system to form a nation state
of the challenges that remain and offers an anal- very quickly, said Ambassador Nusseibeh. For
ysis of the UAEs contributions and influence in many Emiratis, Islamic identity is not only tied
the region. to the traditional structures of its primarily tribal
communities, but to longstanding, conservative
cultural norms in other predominantly Muslim
Part III: Remaining Challenges societies.
Another challenge for Emirati women at least
What are the main challenges that remain as it is often perceived by the West and by some
for women in the UAE? Emirati women is in their public appearance
their clothing. Here again, Emirati women in-
When asked about the challenges to womens
terviewed dispelled a myth that they were inhib-
empowerment in the UAE, outsiders, including
ited based on a religious precinct, claiming it was
human rights organizations, most commonly cite
socio-cultural. Female college students explained
the UAEs reservations to CEDAW33 and the fact
that women can wear any color they want in the
that there is no specific law on domestic vio-
UAE, but with more probing, they explained
lence.34 The UAE ranked also 119th in the 2015
that the black abaya, or long flowing dress with
Global Gender Gap Report,35 and dropped to
hijab or headscarf, is cultural, and fitting into that
124thin 2016.36 Principal concerns include dis-
cultural identity was important. In a country
crimination against women in personal status laws
where only 20 percent out of a population of 9.2
and in the penal code; violence against women,
million people is Emirati, and that segment of the
including inadequate protection against domestic
population occupies an elite position vis--vis the
violence and sexual assault and harassment; and
rest of the population of immigrants who mainly
the abuse of migrant domestic workers.37
fulfill service jobs, wearing the right costume is
Legal reform to address these issues often leads to important. Reputation does matter around here,
backlash from conservative elements of the popu- noted the student. Who wouldnt want to have a
lation38 resulting in the undermining of progress39 good reputation? she asked.
as has occurred in other Arab countries where
It is, in fact, a cultural rather than strictly reli-
new laws are deemed immoral according to con-
gious issue that poses one of the biggest challeng-
servative Islamists.40 A country that was founded
es to womens full empowerment in the UAE. It
in 1971 is not going to be at the same level of
has to do with the social divide in the country.
development of legal jurisprudence as the U.S.
While Emirati women enjoy many rights in prac-
or a European country,
tice whether or not the laws enforce these rights
remarked Ambassador
it is class that makes its millions of immigrant
Nusseibeh. It is quite a
women vulnerable to a number of abuses and
complicated evolution
limits their abilities to work outside of a limited
developing the legal
number of roles. Womens participation in the
system that matches our
labor market overall in the UAE is less than half
unique model. Seen
that of men (42 percent versus 92 percent).41 But
in that context, the
the majority of women who do work are non-na-
achievements of the past
Emirati women wearing the traditional abaya four and a half decades tionals, and their occupations in the private sector
Photo:Tribes of the World via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) are deemed unfit for the 3 percent of nationals
have been remarkable.

Women Behind the Scenes: How Modernity is Catching on Before
Law in the United Arab Emirates

who work.42 Might a culture of womens exclu- ernment has taken pains to stop violence against
sion from political and economic life encourage women, especially with regard to those non-na-
women to opt out of working? Or is it the expa- tionals who are at risk of becoming victims of
triate community that is exerting influence on the human trafficking. The Dubai Foundation for
national female population, further discouraging Women and Children became the first licensed
their engagement in the workplace? asks Karen non-profit shelter in the UAE in 2007, and calls
Young in her recent paper on Womens Labor upon international human rights obligations in its
Force Participation Across the GCC.43 Further- mandate to protect women and children against
more, most women in the UAE are public sector domestic violence, child abuse and human traf-
employees, and there is a social taboo on Emirati ficking. About the Ewaas Shelters for Victims
women joining the private sector, because it is of Human Trafficking in Abu Dhabi, Sheikha
currently dominated by non-national women Fatima stated: Everyone in our dear country
and men. The absence of role models or a move- should accept responsibility for rejecting and
ment by implication for non-national women fighting these heinous crimes, which are a stain
who make up the majority of the countrys
population presents a major impediment While non-national women are still the
towards women reaching their full potential
in a country that wants to demonstrate by
most vulnerable demographic in the
example. While there are women leaders and UAE, the government has taken pains to
role models within the migrant community,
they do not generally receive media attention stop violence against women.
and as a consequence of being non-nationals,
they cannot represent their communities in public on the face of humanity that God has honored in
office. all divine religions. All of us, citizens and govern-
ment, have to confront these flagrant attacks on
What some observers call a two-class society,44
human rights.45 Will these words inspire substan-
however, is being addressed, by one of the UAEs
tive changes with regard to how non-nationals are
top woman leaders through the Ministry of Tol-
treated in the UAE? Social consciousness must
erance, and also in the UAEs efforts to counter
first be encouraged from the top down in both
human trafficking. When the UAE was criticized
words and actions in order to inspire a new gen-
for widespread human trafficking in 2006, Am-
eration to bring it forward from the bottom up
bassador Nusseibeh, who served on the UAEs
- just as has been the pattern for the advancement
first Human Trafficking Committee in 2007-8,
was bound to stop it. We started talking to wom- of Emirati women and girls.
en coming in from other countries and printed
pamphlets about it for airports. We started talking
to the people coming from Southeast Asia and
Eastern Europe, and became much more stringent Culture before Law
regarding the contracts that were being signed The results of these interviews suggest that Emi-
and validated by our Minister of Labor. We draft- rati women have made cultural gains ahead of the
ed and passed the first federal law against human law. What has made the difference is the UAEs
trafficking Federal Law 51 it was actually the model of a movement by implication in which
first law of its kind in the region, she affirmed. women inspire culture change through example
While non-national women are still the most rather than codified laws or campaigns. Laws, in
vulnerable demographic in the UAE, the gov- effect, become moot when behaviors in harmony

The Women in Public Service Project

with higher principles become natural within a Leadership before Mode of Government
society. Many Emirati women do not face the
American feminists have made the point that
same limitations they faced in the early 1970s,
women are consistently marginalized within
or even a decade ago. Many are no longer bound
democratic ideas and institutions, making these
by traditional notions of male guardianship.
and the notion of democracy itself merely
There is a new generation of strong, talented, and
imaginative male constructs.46 In both non-de-
educated Emirati women empowered to pursue
mocracies and so-called democracies, women
any career path they wish. Religion is viewed as
have not achieved their full rights. Must a nation
a private affair, and, whether or not society is
be a democracy in order for it to promote and
secular, womens empowerment is presented by
successfully achieve womens empowerment? The
Emirati leadership as not only in harmony with
case of the UAE begs the question of whether
the precepts of Islamic religious texts and values,
democratic principles can exist without an in-
but with the values of the nation. This is not to
ternationally recognized democracy in place. Can
say that what human rights organizations publish
enlightened leadership trump the procedural ele-
is not critically important or valid, or that coun-
ments of democracy, such as voting and election
tries should not be pushed by the international
by majority, especially when the majority does not
community to reform their laws and respect their
always vote for greater freedoms and just poli-
commitments in practice. But it is worth taking
cies? If the outcome of elections does not create
into account that there is a change in cultural
a freer society, what is ideal leadership? Minister
values taking place in the region ahead of the law,
Al Qasimi suggests that it has to do with making
and it is the result of a new kind of leadership.
others happy and depends on the cultural context
These findings are significant because many other of a given society. The democratic process is not
Arab countries face similar identity challeng- a cookie cutter the U.S. process is different from
es posed by having to adhere to the rules of an the one in Europe, which is different from the
Islamic state while modernizing, and, in some one in Asia, she remarked. Is democracy elec-
cases, defining themselves as secular. This is an es- tions? No it is not elections are the path, not the
pecially difficult feat because Islam, by its very na- end result, she affirmed. If you have a satisfied,
ture, makes a secular identity appear as a contra- happy society that has a government that provides
diction to the faith; Sharia law is not considered for it, it doesnt matter what kind of democracy
separate from the state. The UAE model pres- has delivered it.
ents a way out of a seemingly endless confronta-
When leadership, whether elected or appointed,
tion between religious norms and state identity in
allies itself with higher principles such as inclu-
the region. Rather than having to choose between
sivity, compassion, and pursuit of happiness
modernity and faith, this pattern of leadership
principles often associated with the democracy,
creates a side effect that transcends some of the
and, in many cases, feminine leadership styles it
most deeply entrenched cultural norms prevent-
seems to matter as much as legal reform in the
ing women from realizing their full potential.
UAE today whether a country calls itself a mod-
Regardless of the origins or intentions behind
ern democracy or an absolute monarchy. What
womens leadership in the UAE, its very existence
counts is that these principles become the pillars
sets in motion a natural reaction that encourages
by which every day citizens live. For this, some-
families to support girls education, participation
thing more than superficial procedure correspond-
in the workforce, and overall greater freedom.
ing to a particular mode of governance is required
that is a new consciousness that influences
from the highest echelons of government and is

Women Behind the Scenes: How Modernity is Catching on Before
Law in the United Arab Emirates

met by a population that is ready to join and am- ways sought to influence from behind the scenes.
plify these higher principles of life. Democracy, Weve always offered quiet advice and weve
or voting and electing leaders by majority, may always appreciated quiet and constructive advice
not be merely as important as the minority who when we receive it.
want and can bring about lasting and positive Minister Al Kaabi described a meeting she recent-
change to their societies. Inspired leadership may ly attended: There was one other woman at the
offer the best strategy for encouraging a nation table who would raise her hand when she wanted
to live by inclusive, democratic principles, just as to speak and then wait. The men just jumped in
a leader who does not demonstrate these princi- and spoke when they had a point to make. After
ples even in a democracy can wreak havoc on the meeting, I pulled her aside and reminded her
citizens rights and freedoms. that she doesnt need to seek permission to con-
Today, Emirati women are appointed to high tribute. I told her the fact that she is at the table
positions in the government and rise to the top gives her the right to speak, so if you have some-
in business, the sciences and technology not as thing to say, speak up; and if you are not being
a part of a gender strategy, but rather because heard, speak louder.
Emiratis know that their involvement leads to
a more prosperous and inclusive society. This
Do Emirati women bring something to the
does not mean Emirati leadership believes or has
accomplished the goal of gender equality. It is table?
important to recognize our system is not perfect, The answer to this question is yes. And it isnt a
commented Ambassador Nusseibeh. We feel we new law or a policy though these may be among
have a way to go we submit our model humbly their contributions it is a whole way of life, and
as an alternative in the region because our region behind the scenes, it is already being lived.
is going through a very difficult period. Weve al-

The Women in Public Service Project

Executive Summary
1 The Delphi technique is a widely used and accepted Mayer, Cultural Particularism as a Bar to Womens
method for gathering data from respondents within Rights: Reflections on the Middle Eastern Experi-
their domain of expertise. The technique is designed ence, Women Living Under Muslim Law, (1996)
as a group communication process which aims to and Thomas M. Franck, Are Human Rights Univer-
achieve a convergence of opinion on a specific re- sal? Foreign Affairs, (Jan.-Feb. 2001).
al-world issue, Chia-Chien Hsu and Brian Sanford, 4 Womens liberations is directly linked to the political
The Delphi Technique: Making Sense of Consen- and economic conflicts rending modern Muslim
sus, Practical Assessment, Research and Evaluation, societies. []paradoxically, every political setback
12:10 (2007), accessed January 30, 2017, http://pare- inflicted by infidels generates an antithetical necessi- ty to reaffirm the traditional Islamic nature of these
2 Interviews of all those who are quoted in this paper societies as well. The forces of both modernity and
were taken by the author over a period of three tradition are unleashed in a single stroke and confront
months from October to December 2016. each other with dramatic consequences for relations
between the sexes Fatima Mernissi, Beyond the Veil,
3 For background on the debate see Ann Elizabeth
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 11.

1 Klaus Schwab, 2015-2016 Global Competitiveness Details can be found on UN Womens Convention
Report, (Report presented at the World Economic on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination
Forum, 2015, Geneva). Accessed January 23, 2017, website: daw/reservations-country.htm.
Global_Competitiveness_Report_2015-2016.pdf. 8 Even where all reservations to CEDAW are removed,
2 Embassy of the United Arab Emirates website, in no Arab country have CEDAW provisions been
accessed January 23, 2017, http://www.uae-embassy. fully implemented.
org/ and 2016 Country Review for the United Arab 9 Samar El-Masri, Challenges facing CEDAW in
Emirates, Country Watch, the Middle East and North Africa, The Internation-
3 Noura Al Rashedi, Abdullah Al Shamsi, Mohamed al Journal of Human Rights, 16 (2012): 931-946,
Rashed, Tomasz Sinczak, Sasha Hodgson, Kate accessed January 23, 2017, http://www.tandfonline.
ONeil, Social Marketing, Education and the Female com/doi/abs/10.1080/13642987.2011.629096?jour-
Workforce: A Comparison of United Arab Emirates nalCode=fjhr20.
and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Middle East Journal of 10 Women, Law, and Policy: Gender and Public Life
Business, 10:1 (2015). in the Middle East and North Africa, MENA-OECD
4 Isobel Coleman and Aala Abdelgadir, The MENAs Governance Program, accessed January 23, 2017,
Woman Problem: Progress and challenges in womens
economic participation, in Women and Girls Rising, public-life-mena-brochure.pdf.
ed. Ellen Chesler and Terry McGovern, (New York: 11 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Routledge, 2016), 247. Discrimination Against Women, Declarations, Res-
5 These figures apply only to Emirati national women. ervations, and Objections to CEDAW. http://www.
The status of non-national women in the UAE will be
addressed later in the paper. try.htm
6 Embassy of the United Arab Emirates website, 12 Gender Inequality Index of the Human Develop-
accessed January 23, 2017, http://www.uae-embassy. ment Report, United Nations Development Pro-
org/. gramme, accessed January 23, 2017, http://hdr.undp.
7 TheUnited Arab Emiratesmakes reservations to arti-
cles2(f ), 9, 15 (2), 16 and 29 (1) of the Convention. 13 Global Women Forum Dubai 2016, accessed January

Women Behind the Scenes: How Modernity is Catching on Before
Law in the United Arab Emirates

23, 2017, http://www.globalwomensforumdubai. of women in the United Arab Emirates Human

com/english-global-women-forum-dubai-2016/; Resource Development International, 17:3 (2014),
and Education as a Change-Driver in the UAE, 339357.
Un-published report by McGraw Hill Education and 23 We see a similar development pattern in Kuwait.
United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education, July 27, Haya al-Mughni, Womens Organizations in Ku-
2016. wait, in Women and Power in the Middle East, ed.
14 Rohma Sadaqat, Majority of UAE Women Happy Suad Joseph and Susan Slyomovics. (Philadelphia:
with Workplace Equality, Khaleej Times, (2016) University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 177.
accessed January 23, 2017, http://www.khaleejtimes. 24 Vania Carvalho Pinto, The Makings of a Move-
com/majority-of-uae-women-happy-with-work- ment by Implication: Assessing the Expansion of
place-equality. Womens Rights in the United Arab Emirates from
15 Sarah Frostenson, The Womens Marches May have 1971 until Today, in Mapping Arab Womens Move-
been the Largest Demonstration in U.S. History, ments, ed. Arenfeldt Golley, (New York: The Ameri-
(2017), accessed January 30, 2017, http://www.vox. can University in Cairo Press, 2012), 283-284.
est-demonstration-us-history-map 25 Nikki Keddie, Women in the Middle East, Past and
Present, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007),
16 Italicized subtitles denote questions posed to inter- 167.
26 Sarah Graham-Brown, Historical Perspective, in
17 Vania Carvalho Pinto, The Makings of a Move- Women and Power in the Middle East, ed. Suad Joseph
ment by Implication: Assessing the Expansion of and Susan Slyomovics. (Philadelphia: University of
Womens Rights in the United Arab Emirates from Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 28.
1971 until Today, in Mapping Arab Womens Move-
ments, ed. Arenfeldt Golley, (New York: The Ameri- 27 Vania Carvalho Pinto, The Makings of a Move-
can University in Cairo Press, 2012), 283-284. ment by Implication: Assessing the Expansion of
Womens Rights in the United Arab Emirates from
18 Parvin Paidar, Encounters between Feminism, 1971 until Today, in Mapping Arab Womens Move-
Democracy and Reformism in Contemporary Iran, ments, ed. Arenfeldt Golley, (New York: The Ameri-
in Gender Justice, Development and Rights, ed. Maxine can University in Cairo Press, 2012), 282.
Molyneux and Shahra Razavi. (Oxford: Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 2002), 241. 28 In other countries in the region, some women were
appointed ministers, but their subject area was limit-
19 Irans Women: A Driving Force Behind Green ed to womens affairs, health, or education.
Movement, Huffington Post (2009), accessed
March 18, 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost. 29 Vania Carvalho Pinto, The Makings of a Move-
com/2009/07/24/irans-women-a-driving- ment by Implication: Assessing the Expansion of
for_n_244218.html. Womens Rights in the United Arab Emirates from
1971 until Today, in Mapping Arab Womens Move-
20 Klaus Schwab, 2015-2016 Global Competitiveness ments, ed. Arenfeldt Golley, (New York: The Ameri-
Report, (Report presented at the World Economic can University in Cairo Press, 2012), 283.
Forum, 2015, Geneva). Accessed January 23, 2017, 30 A 2015 study on state fragility demonstrates that
Global_Competitiveness_Report_2015-2016.pdf family laws restricting a womans right to travel, hold
and Education as a Change-Driver in the UAE, a job, marry, have custody over her children, divorce,
Un-published report by McGraw Hill Education and and execute other basic human rights leads to state
United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education, July 27, instability. See Donna Lee Bowen, Valerie M. Hud-
2016. son, and Perpetua Lynne Nielsen, State Fragility and
Structural Gender Inequality in Family Law: An Em-
21 Embassy of the United Arab Emirates website, pirical Investigation Laws, (2015); see also Jonathan
accessed January 23, 2017, http://www.uae-embassy. Woetzel, Anu Madgavkar, James Manyika, Kweilin
org/. Ellingrud, Vivian Hunt and Mekala Krishnan,
22 Office of Higher Education, Policy and Planning, Realizing Gender Equalitys $12 Trillion Economic
and Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Re- Opportunity, McKinsey & Company (2016).
search (2007), 340 and Hayfaa A. Tlaiss, Conform-
ers, fighters and rebels: the unfolding of the careers 31 Nikki Keddie, Women in the Middle East, Past and

The Women in Public Service Project

Present, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), 43 Ibid.

158. 44 Nikki Keddie, Women in the Middle East, Past and
32 Vania Carvalho Pinto, The Makings of a Move- Present, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007),
ment by Implication: Assessing the Expansion of 156.
Womens Rights in the United Arab Emirates from 45 Ewaas Shelters for Victims of Human Trafficking
1971 until Today, in Mapping Arab Womens Move- website, accessed February 9, 2017, http://www.shwc.
ments, ed. Arenfeldt Golley, (New York: The Ameri- ae/portal/sh.fatima.message.aspx.
can University in Cairo Press, 2012), 290.
46 Sarah Graham-Brown, Historical Perspective, in
33 See Denmarks communication to the Secretary Women and Power in the Middle East, ed. Suad Joseph
General on 14 December 2005 regarding the UAEs and Susan Slyomovics. (Philadelphia: University of
reservations to CEDAW on UN Womens Conven- Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 26-27.
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34 Ola Salam, FNC Investigates Domestic Violence
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uary 30, 2017,
35 Klaus Schwab, 2015 Global Gender Gap Report,
World Economic Forum, accessed January 30, 2017,
36 Ibid.
37 Froilan T. Malit Jr. and Ali Al Youha, Labor Mi-
gration in the United Arab Emirates: Challenges
and Responses, Migration Policy Institute, accessed
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38 Nikki Keddie, Women in the Middle East, Past and

Present, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007),
39 Lawrence Davidson, The Backlash Against Wom-
ens Rights,, (2012), ac-
cessed January 23, 2017, https://consortiumnews.
40 Sarah Graham-Brown, Historical Perspective, in
Women and Power in the Middle East, ed. Suad Joseph
and Susan Slyomovics. (Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 31.
41 Karen Young, Womens Labor Force Participation
Across the GCC, Arab Gulf States Institute in Wash-
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42 Ibid, 16.

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