Women enjoy their full rights under the UAE Constitution
Women in the UAE have had the complete support and commitment of Sheikh Zayed and the UAE Government in their quest to play a full role in the development of the country. The belief that women are entitled to take their place in society is grounded in the UAE Constitution, which states that the principles of social justice should apply to all. Under the Constitution women enjoy the same legal status, claim to titles, access to education and the right to practice professions as men. The guarantees enshrined in the Constitution have been incorporated into implementing legislation.
However, a legislative framework by itself, although valuable, would not have been sufficient to achieve emancipation. The President's wife, Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, therefore, has worked tirelessly since the establishment of the Federation to implement Sheikh Zayed's vision of a modern society based on Arab and Islamic traditions, recognizing that it was only by organizing women that real progress could be made.
Sheikha Fatima founded the first UAE women's society in 1972, the Abu Dhabi Women's Society. The success of the Abu Dhabi association led to the creation of a whole host of associations throughout the emirates. These societies were subsequently linked together under the UAE Women's Federation on August 28, 1975, headed by Sheikha Fatima.
The UAE Women's Federation is an autonomous body with its own budget. It has a number of committees to run its activities, such as religious affairs, mother and child care, social affairs, cultural affairs, sports, heritage and the arts.
Activities undertaken by the individual branches include illiteracy eradication, nursery classes, housekeeping, dressmaking and handicraft classes, art classes, child care advice, health, education, vocational training projects, job placement programs, religious education, welfare assistance, family advice, including mediation services, as well as a busy calendar of social, cultural and sporting activities.
As part of efforts to revive the country's heritage, an environmental and handicrafts program was instituted in 1978 at the Women's Federation in association with the United Nations Development Program and ministries of health, labor and social affairs.
The priority of the Women's Federation in the early days was to help women emerge out of seclusion, use their leisure time to become literate and acquire knowledge about the modern world in order to enable them to raise their family's standard of living. But today's goals are linked to comprehensive social planning with a view to increasing social cohesiveness.
The Federation is involved in the first demographic survey of women and in the implementation of the resolutions issued by the 1995 women's summit in Beijing.
UAE women have played an active role in the international women's movement, always taking care to ensure that proper attention is paid to the recognition of the differences between religions, cultures and traditions. The UAE strongly believes that Islam offers guarantees for the position of women that can act as a useful example to the rest of the world. In keeping with this philosophy, the UAE Women's Federation has participated in all of the major international women's conferences of the last couple of decades.
In line with the Federation's desire to spearhead the advancement of women, Technosphere '99, a three-day conference to study the impact of science and technology on Arab women, was held by the Women's Federation in April 1999. Forty experts from 20 Arab countries participated.
In the past, social stability in the UAE has been threatened by the high rate of marriage between UAE nationals and foreign women, leaving many young UAE women unmarried and a significant number of UAE children being brought up by mothers without any cultural or religious affinity with the UAE. The high cost of marriage in the UAE, including lavish wedding receptions and expensive dowries, was a major contributing factor to this phenomenon. Over and above financial, religious and cultural issues, more marriages between national men and foreign women end in divorce than those between national men and national women.
Recognizing that a remedy was required, Sheikh Zayed decreed the creation of a special Marriage Fund financed by the Government, which offers substantial long-term loans (up to Dh 70,000) to young UAE men wishing to marry UAE women, in order to defray the costs of getting started in life.
At the same time, Sheikh Zayed has waged a vocal and successful campaign against the practice of high dowries and extravagant weddings. Upper limits of Dh 50,000 have been set for dowries and the prohibition on lavish weddings can now be enforced by legal sanctions.
Educational opportunities, the real stimulus for emancipation and development, are now open to women at all levels in the UAE. The number of female students registered at UAE schools has increased 14-fold: statics show that approximately 270,000 female students were registered in the academic year 1996-1997 compared with 19,000 in 1972-1973.
This avid embrace of educational opportunities has given UAE women a chance to participate in the development of their society alongside men. Today, UAE women are making their presence felt in society as civil servants, university professors, teachers, lawyers, engineers, doctors, under secretaries, businesswomen, administrators, media and as members of the police force and the army.
Sheikha Fatima has stressed that society as a whole will benefit enormously if the UAE enters the 21st century empowered by the participation of women in all walks of life, particularly the political arena. "Women joining the FNC should serve all of society and not only women's rights," she said. Sheikha Fatima added that UAE women enjoyed all their legal rights and freedom and have occupied some of the highest posts in the country thanks to the support of Sheikh Zayed. (Source: UAE Yearbook 1999)