Women in the UAE

The UAE is ranked as a leader in gender equality in the region, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2014 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, military and government. 

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. To learn more about the UAE’s pioneering women, click here to watch interviews.

Equality in Education and Literacy

While the literacy rate of both women and men in the UAE is close to 95 percent, today, more women than men complete secondary education and enroll in university and post-graduate institutions.

  • 95% of girls and 80% of boys who complete their secondary education enroll in a higher education institution in the UAE or travel abroad to study.
  • Significantly, Emirati women account for 71.6% of students in government tertiary-level institutions and for 50.1% of students in private higher education.
  • The literacy rate of women in the UAE was 90 percent in 2007.

Women in Government and Business

Women graduates in the UAE excel in government, engineering, science, health care, media, computer technology, law, commerce and the oil industry.

  • The UAE has four women fighter pilots and has also trained over 30 women to work with the country’s special security forces. 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 will provide world-class training and include physical fitness sessions and development of leadership skills and character. 

Highlighting the importance of gender in policy dialogue, in 2015, the UAE announced the establishment of the Gender Balance Council, a federal entity that increases the role of women in leadership positions and strengthens institutional capacity. Women’s participation is particularly strong in the public sector:

  • Eight women serve in the UAE Cabinet—including Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Minister of State for Tolerance, who was recognized by Forbes magazine as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world.
  • Women fill two-thirds of all public-sector posts with 30 percent in senior and decision-making positions.
  • Nine women hold seats within the Federal National Council (FNC), a consultative parliamentary body, accounting for nearly one-quarter of the FNC’s membership.
  • In November 2015, Dr. Amal Al Qubaisi became president of the FNC, making her the first woman in the region to lead a national assembly. She previously had made history in 2006 as the first elected female to the FNC and in 2011 was appointed deputy speaker of the FNC.
  • In addition, the new UAE Cabinet announced in February 2016 features eight women, including 22-year-old Shamma Al Mazrui, who serves as Minister of State for Youth Affairs.
  • 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.  
  • Women make up 20 percent of the diplomatic corps, and there are also several female ambassadors, including one to the United Nations, Spain, Portugal and Montenegro, and a female Consul General in Milan.
  • In September of 2013, Lana Nusseibeh presented her credentials to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Ambassador Nusseibeh is the first female permanent representative to the UN and the fifth woman in the country to serve as an ambassador.

Meeting and Exceeding International Standards

In 2014, the UAE announced the opening of a regional office for UN Women in Abu Dhabi. In its continued support of the organization dedicated to advancing women, the UAE will also appoint a senior advisor from the country to work at the headquarters in New York and provide support and assistance in the organization’s global review of women, peace and security.

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 and GCC conferences on women’s issues. The UAE 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 2007 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) status report on Millennium Development Goals recognized the positive outcome of the UAE’s target-oriented policies in a number of areas, including women’s empowerment. It particularly noted that the state legislations in the UAE do not discriminate on the basis of gender with respect to education, employment or the quality of services provided.

According to the findings of the report, educational indicators show that women’s achievements in education have reached its targeted levels, and in some cases, exceeded that of men because of a strong desire among women to become financially independent and professionally successful.

In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report for 2014, the UAE ranks 2nd in the Gulf for overall performance, and ranked in the top two-thirds for education.

The UAE released a report in the fall of 2008, Women in the United Arab Emirates: A Portrait of Progress, which outlines both the developments and challenges associated with the status of women in the Emirates. The report notes that “Having made significant progress, the UAE does not intend to stagnate with regards to its women’s empowerment policies but rather to continue and develop… The UAE intends to establish a new benchmark for gender empowerment in the region.”