In 2006, one woman was elected to the UAE’s Federal National Council (FNC) and eight others were appointed. Even before then, women had served as ministers and ambassadors of the UAE. And yet the entry of women into the UAE’s political arena has had its difficulties, just as in other Arab states.
A common mindset in this country remains fixed on certain unchanging notions of a “woman’s place”. Many of the existing political institutions reflect a male-dominated, male-orientated culture. The media seems to play a role in promoting female politicians, but some see that as a problem.
The FNC is not like a parliament where issues that affect the lives of ordinary people are debated and laws are passed; the FNC’s role at present is only advisory. Still, the effect of women on the full spectrum of political debate and development in the UAE must not be underestimated.
Some female members of the last FNC describe their term as a great experience. But others say they wish they could have done more. These women say they found that some male ministers and FNC members made an infuriating and intimidating distinction between “soft” issues and “hard politics”. The first category covered policies such as welfare, children and maternity; the second included defence, budgets and foreign policy.
The distinction, the women said, was aimed at limiting their involvement in political debate. The female members were appointed to a committee or two where these soft issues were debated and examined. But these issues were scarcely deemed worthy of mention in established political spaces, which may have explained why the media portrayed the female members as being of little use and having negligible effect.
Nonetheless, these women agree that dealing with soft issues educated them, training them to take part in public discussions from which they previously shied away.