Women's leadership paramount in Covid recovery

Michal Michelle Divon/Dubai
Filed on March 7, 2021
Hend Al Otaiba, director of strategic communication at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Al Otaiba has been at the Ministry of Foreign affairs since 2017 and is one of the most vocal Emirati female voices in the international arena.

This International Women’s Day is unlike any other. It is being observed against the devastating health, social, and economic impacts of Covid-19, a pandemic that disproportionately affected women.

Hend Al Otaiba, director of strategic communication at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sat down with Khaleej Times to reflect on the year of the pandemic, and share why she believes women need to lead in the recovery effort.

In her personal journey, Al Otaiba has heavily relied on female mentors and their expertise and hopes that this International Women’s Day can inspire women to further help one another.

“Throughout my career, I have benefited from the wisdom and expertise of female mentors who have helped me in my path,” she says. “My advice is to encourage and uplift each other. By working together to help each other pursue our goals, we can achieve so much more than when we try to do it alone.”

Al Otaiba has been at the Ministry of Foreign affairs since 2017 and is one of the most vocal Emirati female voices in the international arena. Having written op-eds for multiple foreign publications including Israel’s Haaretz Daily, Saudi Arabia’s Arab News, and New York’s Tablet Magazine, Al Otaiba understands the importance of communication.

Her message on this International Women’s Day is clear: “We must all work together to address inequalities and ensure that women are not left behind in the Covid-19 recovery period,” she said.

Recognising the important role of women in the UAE is a matter close to Al Otaiba’s heart. The Abu Dhabi native and mother of two boys believes this year’s International Women’s Day should highlight the sacrifices women around the world have had to make, and advance coordinated global action relating to the status and involvement of women worldwide.

While men tend to suffer more severe cases of Covid-19 according to the CDC, women have been more severely impacted by the social and economic effects of the pandemic, often bearing the brunt of childcare and homeschooling, all while juggling their own professional responsibilities. UN Women reports that women tend to be overrepresented in industries most impacted by the pandemic, which directly results in further job losses.

For the UAE however, this year has also had positive developments. Despite the economic, cultural and social setbacks, the UAE has reaped several historic accomplishments, launching the Arab world’s first nuclear power plant, becoming the fifth country to reach Mars, and the first Arab country to sign the Abraham Accords with Israel, kickstarting the momentum for renewed peace and regional alliances. When asked about her proudest moment this year, Al Otaiba highlights the UAE Mars Mission, and the women who made it possible. “The probe was developed by a team of 200 Emirati engineers, experts, and researchers, of which 34% were women, the highest in the world for such a project.”

The project was led by Minister of State for Advanced Technology HE Sarah Al Amiri, herself just 34 years old, one of the UAE government’s latest prodigies and role models for generations to come. “These women have brought immense pride to our nation and have paved the way for generations of women scientists to come.” Says Al Otaiba

In recent years, the UAE Government has adopted several laws that aim to enhance leadership roles among women throughout society. In 2015, the UAE established the Gender Balance Council, tasked with increasing the role of women in government.

Now, half of the Federal National Council is comprised of women, along with one-third of the Cabinet. In the current government, nine of 32 ministers are women, amounting to 27 percent, and women make up 30 percent of the UAE’s diplomatic corps and 66 percent of the government sector.

“Undoubtedly, the government is exerting significant effort to increase the percentage of Emirati women in senior roles,” said Al Otaiba, whose office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is made up of 50 percent women.

The Director of Strategic Communications who prides herself in the UAE’s ongoing efforts to improve the status of women, says much work remains to be done, and this year’s International Women’s Day should encourage future generations of women to excel in all fields.

“While this remarkable progress has occurred in only 50 years of our nation’s development, we are keen to constantly improve upon these achievements to ensure that women are active participants in this journey.”

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