UAE: Covid-19 revealed women's unpaid labour, says gender auditor

Linda Sabbarini talks about female inclusion, equality

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Nandini Sircar

Published: Sat 2 Jul 2022, 1:43 PM

Shedding light on the disproportionate burden of unpaid care, gender auditor Linda Sabbarini emphasises the need to acknowledge domestic and childcare responsibilities that remain undervalued and to include them in state agendas, especially after the Covid-19 crisis that's proved to be a wakeup call for all.

The UAE-based half-Palestinian and half-French Sabbarini says, "This was something that not everyone was aware of. But the moment everyone was in lockdown, people figured the amount of unpaid care women do. So, it would be great that this issue becomes a priority on national agendas. This is now one of the prominent topics that the International Labor Organization (ILO) is also talking about because pandemic has led to a lot of learning outcomes especially on unpaid care."

Having acquired a gender audit certification from the ILO, the 44-year-old Dubai resident underlines her role doesn't mean initiating a battle to replace one gender with the other. She explains, "People who resist the concept of gender equality often view it as women wanting to replace men or women wanting to put men on the side. But that's not the case. Women and men must be partners to be able to achieve economic development and to uphold the basic human rights of equality. So, it's not about one having power over the other. It's about gender equality. Inequality results from power imbalance and what we are looking for is to create an ecosystem that has power balance."

Explaining more about her profession which is still quite niche Sabbarini avers her job is to tell new, more complete and equitable stories on topics that would propel "changes in strategic planning", especially at a macro level in organisations.

"My job is to initiate changes in practices and policies that companies have in place that would promote the integration of gender equality practices within the entity. I am like a facilitator in the learning voyage of an organisation that wants to walk through their gender journey. We support companies in identifying their strengths, challenges, and help them think of recommendations for improving the status. So, we are not auditors. We don't have a checklist and there wouldn't be any kind of repercussions. We are there to start the dialogue, facilitate the discussion and thinking of where companies want to be and how they can get there, based on what they already have," says the woman, who holds a master's degree in Economics and started her career as an educator.

Elucidating on how these recommendations on gender mainstreaming ultimately require a real action plan, for different enterprises, Sabbarini adds, "In our exchange journey, we start looking at what companies already have. We try to shed light on their positives, either strategies, policies, or practices that are in place. From there we try to move and encourage the dialogue towards what should be. We don't dictate, but we start to stir the dialogue in terms of what should be or how should the workplace look for it to be more gender inclusive? What do you believe the hiring processes need to be? We look at each department. We start with a vision and mission. We look at staff capacities, and organisational culture. We look at HR and we look at Finance. We look at partnerships. So, it's a whole package of programming and it is customer oriented. How do they do that? Do they take the gender aspect in the services they present to their customers or not? Or is it a one service tailored, not tailored, one service fits all?"

Female labour force participation needs to improve

Shining spotlight on female labour force participation and how it requires the development of a "change-management approach", Sabbarini notes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the level of women's education is high, yet, women participation in the labor market is the lowest across the globe, "Labour market regulations across the Arab countries do not always promote a gender-inclusive work environment. They do not allow women to penetrate into the labour market. The regulations are not gender-sensitive. They do not look into the distinct needs of women and take them into consideration."

She adds, "But there are good milestones. For example, maternity leaves are a good milestone."

Feeling passionately about stereotyping of women in societal roles and voicing her concern about women facing inferior income opportunities she further says,

"Not everyone has equal pay for an equal job which means the moment a family has to sacrifice one of the two incomes, for example, when a child is born, usually it's the woman's income. That's because it is far less than the male income. The gender gap is huge in the labour markets."


But having said this, she notes, there is significant variation in the level of female participation even within the region.

"The UAE really celebrates the achievements of women. Therefore, it stands at the top among the other Arab countries in the Gender Equality Index and has sealed the 18th spot globally. It is important to mention that this index covers education attainment, it covers political and health attainment. Also, the presence of women in leadership roles, and on the boards of directors is far greater in the UAE, as compared to many other countries in the world. It's also among the leaders in the GCC countries. Now it's about continuing that journey and building on it."

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