Institutional support crucial for empowering women
Government agencies and other political and social institutions should play an active role in empowering women in the Asian and Arab world, a prominent female politician in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said, stressing women themselves also need to make every effort to become leaders and make differences in the still male-dominated world.
In an interview with the Hankook Ilbo, a sister paper of The Korea Times, Najla Al-Awadhi, a member of the UAE Federal National Council (UAE Parliament) and deputy CEO at Dubai Media, said women must be supported through policies and legislations because empowerment is not a process that happens naturally.
“It is a project that must be adopted and aggressively implemented through the relevant spheres of society, such as media, civil society, education and law. Even though I am not a big fan of traditional quota systems for women, I believe the application of meritocratic quota systems can contribute to empowering women,” she said.
Al-Awadhi is one of the first women in the history of the UAE to become a member of parliament. She has been promoting a range of socio-political topics, broadly speaking on anything that falls under the media, government, or the role and rights of women, in the context of the Arab and Muslim World.
As for creating separate rules favoring women, Al-Awadhi said as long as a group in society is marginalized, they should be treated with sensitivity, for example special rules, until they are fully integrated into the power structure.
“Without a doubt, gender equity should be on the agenda as long as women continue to make up 70 percent of the world’s poor, and are deprived of education. Then, we are depriving women of their dignity and humanity of the true potential. In terms of economic development, the world should maximize the potential of women across the labor market to achieve sustainable growth and innovation,” Al-Awadhi said.
She then said there are many institutionalized and cultural barriers facing women.
“There are labor laws that are not understanding of women’s practical life circumstances. There is the lacking of progressive education systems that are not imparting students with critical and enlightened mindsets that understand civic duty and see beyond gender roles. There are social structures where male authority and dominance is seen as natural and absolute,” Al-Awadhi said, stressing empowering women should start with progressive education at home, in schools and in the media.
When asked about whether Asian women lack the kind of strength and passion for them to break the glass ceiling, the member of the UAE Parliament said if they have not broken the ceiling and moved forward to achieve leadership positions, it is because of a lack of appropriate progressive education, awareness and support.
“Arab women also face many similar challenges. I have been outspoken in defending women’s rights and encouraging them to hold political office. I will further present these issues to the general public and to the governments that are often reluctant to grant women the same rights as those enjoyed by men,” Al-Awadhi said.
In the Arab world, the role and rights of women vary from one country to another, she said. “While there have been great achievements for women in certain Arab nations, there is yet much to do to institutionalize gender equity across the region to ensure the maximization of female potential and the protection of their human rights.”
Regarding her public life, Al-Awadhi said she never viewed her position in life through stereotypical general roles, adding she was raised by her family to see beyond gender and to do what she believes in, that benefits society.
“In my mind, nothing is impossible. I always had a passion for social justice and public service. I also enjoy helping and uplifting people so that they can reach their true potential. Being able to institutionalize policies that sustain the progressive advancement of women has made me work hard in the parliamentary sphere,” she said.