Women in the UAE: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow


Every year on 28 August, the UAE celebrates the significant contributions of its women in different spheres ranging from teaching and healthcare to – in recent times – aviation, advanced technology and space. They have demonstrated time and again that no glass ceiling can hold them down and that not even the sky is the limit when it comes to their determination to support the growth of their homeland.

Emirati women have always been at the vanguard of the nation’s progress – a seamless and integral part of the wider UAE population, working shoulder to shoulder with their male compatriots in enabling the UAE to realise its lofty ambitions and in shaping its myriad achievements.

=From the earliest days of the UAE federation, the country’s visionary leadership and its founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, have believed that UAE women can achieve anything they set their minds to. The country has benefitted in no small measure from this liberal conviction and its women have managed to live up to the trust. They have risen to the occasion as principal caregivers capable of nurturing thriving families while also straddling demanding careers to contribute tremendously to the national economy.

This year, the country celebrates its seventh Emirati Women’s Day under the theme announced by the mother of the nation, Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak in April 2021 - ‘Women: Ambitions & Inspirations for the Next 50 Years’. The sentiment resonates with the declaration of the UAE President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan that 2021 would be the UAE’s ‘Year of the 50th’.

In the last 50 years since the establishment of the UAE federation, Emirati women have notched up significant wins in all spheres – ranging from excellence in education to choosing to pursue the most unconventional careers. Whether it is Her Excellency Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth and Chairperson of the National Committee for Education, Culture and Science or Sara Al Madani, entrepreneur, innovator and public speaker with over 300,000 followers on Instagram, or Danah Al Ali, Emirati mother of two and a mountaineer keen to realise her goal of conquering Mt Everest – the list of ambitious women achievers is practically endless.

The UAE’s women have proven their prowess in shaping the country’s future economy and society through holding significant political roles. The country’s Minister of State for Youth Affairs, H.E. Shamma Al Mazrouei, was the youngest appointed minister in the world at 22 in 2016. H.E. Reem Al Hashimy is a Minister of State and the Managing Director of Expo 2020 Dubai, the world’s trade fair that is being hosted in the Middle East for the first time in history – commencing in October 2021. Abu Dhabi’s Media Zone Authority and twofour54 are also spearheaded by a remarkable woman, H.E. Maryam Al Mheiri. On the Advanced Technology Research Council’s Executive Board, H.E. Sara Awad Issa Musallam, Chairwoman, Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge, and H.E. Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Secretary General, Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, are ensuring valuable contributions in defining the country’s advanced technology roadmap.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, the UAE climbed 48 places over the past year, rising from the 120th to 72nd spot in Global Gender Gap Index rankings. The vision of its leaders has enabled the UAE to lead the GCC region for gender equality, and helped the country reduce the gender gap in government representation, with female membership in the 40-member Federal National Council rising from 9 to 20 in the most recent round of elections and appointments.

Marking an incredible year of achievements amid the pandemic in 2020, the UAE successfully launched its Emirates Mars Mission’s Hope Probe, eliciting an overwhelming interest from its young people – a sizeable number of them Emirati women - to pursue careers in space and advanced sciences. The year culminated with the launch of the Arab Space Pioneers Programme to encourage young Arabs to collaborate and benefit from mentorship in the emerging field. Nora Al Matrooshi – the first Emirati woman to join the UAE Space Program was chosen as the Arab world’s first woman astronaut alongside her male compatriot Mohammed Al Mulla.

In line with the government’s strategy to diversify its economy away from hydrocarbons and renew a commitment to industry and advanced technology, Emirati women have begun to actively seek out STEM-related specialisations in higher education. The numbers are telling. Two-thirds of the UAE’s recent university graduates are women, 77 per cent with degrees in computer sciences and 44 per cent in engineering. Nearly half of today’s female graduates are information and communication technology (ICT) specialists. To further advance the ICT sector, the Telecom Regulatory Authority is pushing for greater gender balance. The UAE leads the region in enabling women’s contribution to elevate its status as a digital transformation leader.

Emirati women occupy 75 per cent of all positions in the education and health sectors, and 23,000 Emirati businesswomen run projects worth over AED50 billion. In the diplomatic corps, including as female ambassadors to the United Nations, women make up 20 per cent of the country’s representation. Equally creditable for a young country, the UAE is the first in the region that requires every government organisation and every company to have female board members. They also hold 15 percent of all positions in the boards of chambers of commerce and industry nationwide.

With an engaged and receptive leadership that is attuned to maximising the full potential of the UAE’s women, and significant initiatives like the National Program for Coders - launched in July 2021 in collaboration with Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Cisco, IBM, HPE, LinkedIn, Nvidia and Facebook, that seek to train and attract 100,000 coders and establish 1,000 digital companies in five years, women in the UAE have learnt to match strides when it comes to achieving the impossible – a word that the UAE does not consider part of its lexicon! Equally empowering is the plan to increase investments in startups from AED1.5 billion to AED4 billon. The future shines brighter than ever for these young women who already have their sights set on the next big and ‘impossible’ challenge.