Addressing De Jure Inequality: UAE Reaches Gender Parity in Federal National Council by Appointing Women
By Faith Campbell
The UAE held an election in October of 2019 with the purpose of electing twenty members of the Federal National Council (FNC). What makes this election special is its arrival after a directive from President Sheikh Khalifa to reach gender parity on the council. The FNC has a total of forty members twenty who are elected and twenty who are appointed. Out of the twenty elected in 2019, seven were women, up from the previous record of one. The directive issued by the President was not fulfilled, and in order to reach the goal of gender balance thirteen women had to be elected. Is it truly gender parity if in order to to achieve it women need to be appointed? Short answer, yes; but with most things in politics, it’s a bit more complicated.
To understand the current situation concerning gender parity in the UAE, knowledge of the political structure of the UAE is required. To give a brief summary of the federal political structure of the UAE:
The body with the most power is referred to as the Supreme Council of Rulers. It is composed of one representative from each of the emirates (seven in total). From that council, a President and Vice President are elected for five-year terms. The President then nominates the Prime Minister who appoints their Cabinet. Lastly there are the forty members of the UAE parliament known as the Federal National Council (FNC).
It is important to note the eligibility of voters has been evolving. This election increased the number of registered voters from 224,279 to 337,738.
The UAE has been striving to improve the conditions of women within their region for roughly two decades, and they certainly want to improve their image on the issue as well. While progress may be far from complete, the steps towards gender equality in the country has been applauded by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The UAE is one of the leading nations in the Middle East and Northern Africa region for gender inclusivity. In a region where gender equality is far from achieved, why would the UAE be a frontrunner? Why does the government care so much?
The answers are mainly speculation. Perhaps the government sees this as a way of achieving their ambitious goals for the future or they want to gain/maintain well-rounded respect from the international community. They could see the economic and diplomatic advantages in ensuring to achieve gender equality. But, regardless of intent, the UAE is gaining speed towards gender equality within their government.
After the establishment of the Gender Balance Council in 2015, founded with the goal of achieving gender parity at all levels of government, there was hope in the authenticity of the government’s statements. But in 2018, an ironic and not entirely unexpected situation arose. The UAE named the first winners of the Gender Balance Index Awards — all of whom were men. The image did not fail to stand out to the international community. If you can ignore or brush off this incident when looking towards the 2019 elections then you can see that the progress was substantive. Not to repeatedly drive numbers into your mind but the elected number of women jumped from one to seven — which is significant, even if the intentions or pathway towards gender equality doesn’t necessarily seem straightforward.
The appointed women resulted in a gender balanced council, and the next step is for the elected and appointed positions to both be composed of ten women and ten men. Hopefully, following that achievement, gender parity spreads to all levels of their government. The country’s stated goal in the long run. The gender balanced council helps to normalize women leaders in the UAE and their appointment will hopefully lead to a more equal society in which women can be elected to the same positions and at the same rates as their male counterparts. Because when looking at discrimination, de jure and defacto, you have to first solve the laws (de jure) in order to solve discrimination within the society (de facto).
Faith is a full-time student at Marietta College, Ohio and is participating in the American University Washington Semester Program this spring. Faith joined the RepresentWomen team as a Research Intern in January and hopes to contribute to the office atmosphere with her cardigans, tea and feminist perspective.