Your Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan,
Your Excellency Dr. Amal Al Qubaisi,
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
I am honored to be here today with so many champions of gender equality and women’s empowerment, and would like to thank the co-conveners of this conference: the General Women’s Union and Her Excellency Noura Al Suwaidi, UN-Women, Women in International Security, and TRENDS Research and Advisory. Thank you for convening such a diverse and engaged group on this seminal issue of our time. In the UAE, we believe that behind every great nation is a great woman.
As His Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan outlined in his speech, it is through Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak’s leadership and example that we are here. Her vision and ideals, and her tireless advocacy promoting opportunities for women and girls continue to guide the UAE and inspire our people. Early in the UAE’s history in fulfillment of His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s vision for his country, it was Her Highness who emphasized the importance of education not only for our boys, but also for our girls, and created an enabling environment to achieve this vision of an equal society.
As outlined by His Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the UAE’s Minister of Tolerance, the theme of tolerance is a fundamental value underpinning the UAE’s development, at home, in our region, and around the world.
Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimi, the UAE’s Minister of State for International Cooperation, has made clear the critical link between women’s empowerment and peace and prosperity.
We are all here today because we understand that gender equality and women’s empowerment are not only worthy goals to pursue in and of themselves, but are crucial to creating stable, tolerant, and prosperous societies.
This is the consensus behind the historic resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, adopted by the UN Security Council in 2000, and its seven subsequent resolutions, to date; namely, that although women bear a burden during conflict, they are consistently excluded from processes that seek to prevent, mitigate, and resolve conflicts – despite the fact that their participation is absolutely critical to ensuring the peace.
We have the data to prove this. We know that 50 percent of peace processes fail within five years. However, when women meaningfully participate in the drafting of a peace accord, there is a 35 percent chance that the peace will last fifteen years or longer. This is not simply because we are including women in the process. It is because women go through this world with a unique set of experiences that prove vital at the negotiating table.
Overwhelming evidence has demonstrated that when men are alone at the table, the conversation tends to focus on issues of power, territory, and the state. But when women are at the table, they more often raise issues of key economic and social necessity – education, health, infrastructure, and access to justice. These are oftentimes misconstrued as “women’s issues”, but in fact, the lack of these services can be key drivers that lead to fragility and the breakdown of social order – which is why it is critical that they are addressed in peace agreements. In short, women are more likely to raise issues that directly affect all of society – women and men, girls and boys – issues on which a lasting peace can be built.
This type of insight is not limited to peace processes, but spans across institutions throughout society – education, the judicial system, the economy, and government. Women have to be active within institutions in order for them to be stable, reflecting the populations they serve. This is important for diversity of thought. When you bring together a group of people from a range of backgrounds, they consider a wider range of issues – from a variety of perspectives – and they generate more innovative solutions.
We also see positive dividends when we prioritize women’s leadership in the economy and the workplace. Over 50 percent of the world’s population are women and girls, and the UAE has long acknowledged the importance of investing in women to maximize their full potential for our country’s development.
Research by the McKinsey Global Institute has demonstrated that global GDP has the potential to rise by 12 trillion US dollars by 2025 by narrowing the global gender gap in the workplace. In the Middle East and North Africa, this would mean an additional 15 percent increase in our GDP by 2025.
Central to this is the importance of women in senior leadership and decision-making across sectors – something that the UAE firmly believes in. The UAE’s story is one which recognizes that the full participation of women has been the key to establishing our own peaceful, prosperous, and tolerant society.
So, what I would like to focus on today is how the UAE is leveraging our national experience to promote women’s empowerment as a foreign policy priority because we believe it is the best investment to achieve sustainable and inclusive societies around the world. We believe that smart foreign policy is inclusive foreign policy – one that puts the rights of women front and center.
Within the UAE, over two thirds of women comprise our public-sector workforce. We have nine women Ministers – one third of our Cabinet – with portfolios ranging from international cooperation, to culture, knowledge development, and youth. As Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimi mentioned, we have a law, passed in 2012, that mandates the participation of women on the Boards of Directors of federal bodies, companies, and institutions.
Under the leadership of Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the General Women’s Union, the UAE’s largest and primary women’s organization, has been the key driver of women’s empowerment in the country since the inception of the UAE. This organization addresses the national implementation of laws on women’s empowerment and organizes trainings, workshops, and events aimed at promoting the empowerment of women and increasing gender equality in our country.
In 2015, our government established a Gender Balance Council to oversee the implementation of best practices to ensure federal institutions achieve gender balance targets, and to review legislation, policies and programmes to achieve gender balance in the workplace.
As you heard from Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimi, His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, was recently honored at the Gender Balance Index 2017 awards with a medal for “Best Personality for Supporting Gender Balance”, in recognition of his strong support to women in the diplomatic sector. His Highness Sheikh Abdullah also became the first HeForShe champion in the UAE, participating in the UN’s global campaign to engage men and boys as advocates and agents of change in the effort to achieve gender equality – because we believe that women alone cannot bring abut this change without the full partnership of men in our society. His Highness’ example is representative of how the UAE’s men – as well as their women – prioritize women’s empowerment around the world.
This translates to how the UAE engages globally. As Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimi made clear, one of the three key pillars of the UAE’s Foreign Assistance Strategy is “women’s protection and empowerment”, which sends a strong signal of our commitment that there can be no peace and stability without the inclusion of women.
We are leveraging our experience and perspective to work for change at the United Nations, doing our part to empower women around the world through the promotion of the Women, Peace and Security agenda. For example, during the 2016 race for a new Secretary-General of the UN, the UAE played a key role in a Member State-led group, which advocated for woman candidates in the election. In the end, a male Secretary-General was chosen, but we managed to bring forth the most number of women candidates ever in the race for Secretary-General: seven out of thirteen. In just this one race, this represented over twice the number of women who have ever been considered for the position in the last 72 years combined – which is the age of the United Nations.
Now that the next Secretary-General has begun his tenure, this group has evolved its mandate to focus on promoting gender parity at the United Nations across the board. We are 126 members strong, and have provided support to the Secretary-General as we work in partnership to achieve gender parity within the United Nations by 2026.
Achieving gender parity is an urgent priority, not only as a basic right, but also as essential to the UN’s efficiency, impact, and credibility. This is why I serve as an International Gender Champion, part of a leadership network where women and men come together to break down gender barriers. As a Champion, I have committed to only speak on panels that strive for gender balance amongst panelists. I am also committed to elevating gender equality and women’s empowerment in my work, making clear that this agenda touches every single file that we work on – from disarmament, to sustainable development, to humanitarian action and peacekeeping, and in our efforts to counter violent extremism.
The UAE sees our work on empowering women, advancing women’s leadership, and gender parity as a key part of our mandate for engagement at the United Nations. The United Nations cannot just be a place where these issues are talked about – the institution must live by the ideals and goals that it desires for Member States. For our part, we as Members States must be aggressive in demanding change at the institutional level, but we must also build our own talent and diplomatic corps, so that the pool of women serving as ambassadors to the UN, countries, and other multilateral institutions grows.
Representation matters because the UN must mirror the values of the global community – not the reality with all its geopolitical tensions, gender biases, and imperfections. We are working with the Secretary-General to strive for gender parity across the UN system. Unblocking the potential of 50 percent of the world is not just the right thing to do – it is a strategic imperative.
Outside of the UN, we need to prioritize gender parity throughout all facets of society. The 2017 Global Gender Gap Report reveals that, for the first time since the World Economic Forum’s records began in 2006, the global gender gap is, in fact, widening.
Each year, the World Economic Forum ranks 144 countries in its Global Gender Gap Index to see how they compare on four pillars: economic participation and opportunity, education, political empowerment, and health and survival. Out of 144 countries covered in the Report, the majority have closed 96 percent of the gap in health outcomes between men and women, unchanged since last year, and more than 95 percent of the gap in educational attainment, a slight decrease compared to last year.
However, the gaps between women and men on economic participation and political empowerment remain wide: only 58 percent of the economic participation gap has been closed – a second consecutive year of reversed progress and the lowest value measured by the Index since 2008 – and only 23 percent of the political gap has been closed, unchanged since last year against a long-term trend of slow but steady improvement.
Particularly concerning is the economic pillar, which looks at salaries, workforce participation, and leadership, and has one of the fastest-growing gaps. Women across the world are still, on average, earning less than men by a large amount. So much so, the World Economic Forum says, that the economic gender gap will now not be closed for 217 years at the current rate of progress, 47 years longer than last year’s estimates.
I’m proud to say that, in the UAE – unlike in many other countries around the world – equal pay for equal work is enshrined in our laws. Economic participation and empowerment are critically tied to political empowerment, and we must therefore prioritize women’s participation in senior leadership and decision-making in these sectors.
Both women’s economic empowerment and women, peace and security are key priorities for the UAE’s partnership with UN-Women. The UAE has been a major supporter of UN-Women since its inception in 2010, and this partnership has recently grown to include the establishment of the UN-Women Liaison Office in Abu Dhabi. In a moment, you will hear from the first director of this office, Dr. Mouza Al Shehhi, who will share with you the Office’s goals, which include accelerating efforts to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment, and showcasing our successful model as a nation around the world. In the UAE, women are core partners in building and leading peaceful, prosperous societies, and that is a success story that we humbly want to share with our global partners.
This year, I have had the honor of serving as President of the UN Women Executive Board, providing policy guidance to UN-Women in support of the entity’s overall mandate. As the first president of the Executive Board from the GCC, and the second woman ever to serve in this position, I was honored to demonstrate the priority role that women play in senior leadership and decision-making in the UAE.
If I leave you with one message today it is this: The UAE recognizes the potential of women and girls in contributing to the progress and development of the UAE, and the world. We will do all that we can to empower women and girls because it is our national strategy, because it is smart foreign policy, and because it is the cornerstone of a more sustainable global economic model.
Building on the legacy of the late founder of our nation, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and the continued leadership of our President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, as well as the dedication of Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the UAE maintains its commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment as a key component of its agenda at home and abroad, and as a cornerstone of peace and security. I, along with my dedicated team in New York, will do my part to continue this work through the United Nations.