WGS in Dubai: Gender Balance Forum kicks off, discusses government action to accelerate equality, growth

UAE’s progressive vision has positioned it at the forefront of gender balance globally and serves as an inspiration and model for other countries in the region

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Mona Ghanem Al Marri, Vice President of the UAE Gender Balance Council
Mona Ghanem Al Marri, Vice President of the UAE Gender Balance Council

Published: Tue 14 Feb 2023, 1:11 AM

The UAE GBC on Monday opened the Gender Balance Forum on Day 1 of the World Government Summit 2023 in Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai. The Forum started with an insightful panel discussion titled ‘Government Action to Accelerate Gender Balance and Regional Growth: An International Organisation Perspective.’

The panel discussion launched with opening remarks by Mona Ghanem Al Marri, Vice President of the UAE Gender Balance Council. The panel featured Ferid Belhaj, Vice President, Mena, World Bank; Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director of World Economic Forum; and Haoliang Xu, Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support (RBPPS), UNDP. The discussion was moderated by Ruqayya AlBlooshi, Executive Director for International Relations & Government Knowledge Exchange, UAE Prime Minister’s Office.

The session reviewed the policies adopted by the UAE to create an inspiring regional model of gender balance, with unwavering support from its visionary leaders, who view it as a national priority that has been promoted for over 50 years. The pillars of this effort include supportive legislation and heightened awareness efforts, as well as a focus on the significance of gender balance and its positive impact on the political, economic, and social domains.

Panellists emphasised that the UAE’s progressive vision has positioned it at the forefront of gender balance globally and serves as an inspiration and model for other countries in the region. In recent years, there has been a noticeable advancement in gender balance in the region.

The session delved into strategies to improve gender balance in the region, including governance models and national plans. The discussion also explored how the factors contributing to the improvement of gender balance can be applied to address other crucial issues, such as climate change and technological advancements.

At the beginning of the session, Mona Al Marri hailed the global collaborations that have contributed to the advancement of gender balance in the UAE and the broader region. She said that working in partnership with international organisations like the World Bank, World Economic Forum, and UNDP, the UAE had built a unique gender balance model, leveraging global expertise to create a world of even greater possibilities and to unleash the full potential of every person, regardless of gender.

Al Marri emphasised that achieving gender balance in the UAE was not just a moral obligation but a critical component of economic growth and the key to creating a thriving, sustainable society. “Under the guidance of our leaders, we aim to bring about a significant change in the country, where gender balance is reflected in every aspect of society. By doing so, we hope to develop a working model that can be adapted across the region,” Al Marri said.

“I am sure many people in this room have been asked often: why do we need global collaborations? Through our collaborations with international organisations, we aim to share knowledge, co-design solutions, and seek inspiration from one another to establish regional benchmarks,” she said.

She added: “We have used insights and recommendations from international organisations to set benchmarks and policies that promote gender equality. When the UAE Gender Balance Council was established in 2015, the country ranked No. 49 on the UNDP Gender Inequality Index. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, set the Council a KPI of making the UAE a Top 25 country in five years. The UAE now ranks 11th globally and first regionally on the Index.”

Al Marri expressed her pride in the UAE’s global rankings in gender balance and said that the directives of the country’s leaders went further. “Our ambitions go beyond rankings. The UAE is committed to implementing policies that bring about real change. Our initiatives range from increasing women’s representation in leadership positions to providing equal pay and opportunities for women in the workforce to promoting women’s health and education.”

The Vice President of the UAE Gender Balance Council highlighted how collaborations with global organisations had benefited the UAE. “The UAE has collaborated with the OECD since the inception of the UAE Gender Balance Council to develop universally applicable resources that effectively enhance women’s participation. This includes the Gender Balance Guide and the Toolkit for Global Advanced Practices for Gender Balance.

“The UAE Gender Balance Council and the World Bank co-host the UAE Gender Balance Centre for Excellence and Knowledge Exchange, a regional centre to drive equitable growth. Our partnership with the UN has resulted in benchmarking our progress against international best practices.

“Most recently, the UAE has become the World Economic Forum’s knowledge partner, joining countries that drive gender balance priorities from the highest levels of leadership. Our government and private sector partners will now be able to share their expertise on the global stage.”

Al Marri concluded: “Our collaborations have enabled us to develop a functional framework for promoting gender equality in the region. But our journey does not end here. We acknowledge that there are still challenges ahead, but there are also great opportunities…opportunities not only to learn and build our capacities but also to share our best practices and stories with the world.”

During the panel discussion, Ferid Belhaj of World Bank hailed the progress made in the gender balance domain in the region, particularly in the UAE. “I am impressed by the progress here. Every time I visit the region, particularly the UAE, we can see that development and progress can be fast-tracked. Things move fast here,” he said. “How can a country achieve economic growth and development if only 50% of its workforce, brainpower and ideas is put to work?,” he asked, adding that “the UAE does it really well with the full backing of its political leadership.”

At the same time, he highlighted the need to continue moving in the same direction and keep up the good work. “This drive needs to be sustained and nurtured every single day,” he noted. Belhaj commended the UAE Gender Balance Council the progress here in the UAE. “The Council is at the heart of the progress, and having a strong political push from the top is essential,” he said and acknowledged that the UAE presented a great model for the region. “We are all proud of what’s happening here and it sets a great example for the rest of the Mena region. You can’t imagine what a great example it is for us to share with the rest of the Mena economies,” he said. Belhaj noted: “You have done a lot, and you have come long way. Keep pushing, and we are with you.”

Saadia Zahidi of WEF highlighted the urgent need to bridge the gender gap in education. “Worldwide, 18% of women in tertiary education are pursuing STEM, compared to 35% of men. In the UAE, on the other hand, 61% of STEM graduates are women,” she said, highlighting the progress the country has made in empowering women.

“When I looked at the list of the UAE’s achievements in gender balance in the past 10 years, it is too long. In just 10 years, the UAE has leapt ahead 33 slots on the Global Gender Gap Report. Such progress doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and is backed by several policy reforms and intensive projects,” she said.

Haoliang Xu of the UNDP hailed the UAE’s progress but lamented that such progress was not yet prevalent elsewhere. “The UAE is an example of equal opportunities for men and women, but such progress is not happening everywhere,” he said. “In some societies, we do not have a consensus on the way forward, which leads to missed opportunities,” he said. “Affording equal opportunities to men and women could add trillions to the global economy.”

The UAE Gender Balance Council is committed to strengthening its global partnerships as a critical aspect of its strategy. It aims to establish the UAE’s leadership and influence in the realm of gender balance and to increase the representation of women in leadership and the economy.

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