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An Emirati Dilemma: gender divide among the workforce

An Emirati Dilemma: gender divide among the workforce

GCC women, particularly in the UAE, are already strong headway in the workforce. But now Eva Fernandes points to a widening divide between Emirati men and women’s skills sets.

November 23, 2011 4:40 by

Upcoming UAE film director Mohammed Mamdouh once made a rather pertinent film titled “An Emirati Dilemma” which looked at the unfortunate phenomenon of Emirati traffic-related accidents and fatality. But because Kipp is a business website, Emirati employment, as far as we are concerned is the real Emirati Dilemma.

Emiratisation, quota system, the public/private sector imbalance-call it what you will, for years now there has been one question that has dominated the conversation about Emirati employment: how to engage more Emiratis into the workforce.

Of course, this is indeed a multifaceted issue, but there is one particular aspect that has always resonated with me (probably because I am a lot closer to my female Emirati friends than the male): how does one resolve the issue of Emirati women in the workforce?

Consider for a second the findings of a study conducted by Aon Corporation that found that men are more likely to be working in the region than women. The survey found that woman’s work-engagement scores was 50 percent. “Relatively low levels of female participation in the GCC workforce, combined with continuing changes in the social position and expectations of young women imply that there is a further latent potential supply of labour ready to take up work” says Dr Markus Wiesner, CEO, Aon Hewitt Middle East.

The lack of women in the workforce is not for a lack of opportunities. After all, the UAE does boast having more than three times the number of women than men in public universities. Various studies through the years have found that Emirati girls outperformed or equaled Emirati boys in math, science and literacy. And let’s not forget the major discrepancy between drop rates between genders.

In fact women’s advanced education and qualifications have proved to be problematic when it comes to marriage. Fakir al Gharaibeh, an assistant professor of sociology at Sharjah University , after studying 2,000 Emirati women across the country identified a relationship between a women’s education level and divorce rates: “So far, the study shows that women who are divorced had higher education levels than their husbands. This may reflect that an educated woman is more independent, and knows her rights and responsibilities” says Gharaibeh.

Last year, The National published an interesting report on Emirati women being hesitant about studying abroad for fear of being labeled “westernised”. The report contained interviews with Emirati men and parents who said “society considered women who had studied in the West to be undignified, damaging their chances of attracting an Emirati spouse.”

To date there hasn’t been enough research conducted on the relationship between an Emirati women’s employment status and her marriage status—but I don’t think it’d be too much of a stretch to extend one’s imagination to fill in the gaps. Speaking purely on an anecdotal basis, upon graduating from a local university here in the UAE, I know that the one thing on too many of my Emirati friends minds post graduation was marriage—not about using the qualification they studied so hard to achieve.

So while Aon’s encouragement of more women in the workplace is laudable, more and more women in the Gulf are already out there taking on the working world. So the question of a widening divide between the qualifications and experiences of Emirati men and women may just be a more pertinent issue to tackle.

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