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30 January 2012

Aisha Al Suwaidi on Working Women in Federal Government Sector Jobs in the UAE

With a recently published report on working women in the public sector issued by the Federal Authority for Government Human Resources (FAGHR) as a backdrop, the Gender and Public Policy Program at the Dubai School of Government hosted Aisha Al Suwaidi to present findings and provide an assessment on the needs of working women in federal government at a seminar entitled “Working Women in Federal Government Sector Jobs: Assessment and Recommendations for the UAE.”
Ms. Al Suwaidi, who is the Director of the HR Planning Department at FAGHR spoke to a public audience on January 30 which included policymakers, academics, scholars, students researchers,  and government officials and employees, as part of the Gender and Public Policy monthly seminar series. In addition to presenting the main findings of the report which surveyed 7876 working women in the federal government, Ms. Al Suwaidi discussed issues such as HR decree 9 for the year 2011 on federal human resources, working women, work-life balance policies, career development opportunities and ideas to promote women’s leadership development opportunities.  
Ms. Al Suwaidi stated: “With women occupying over 65 per cent of the Emirati workforce in the federal government and 75 per cent of jobs in the education and the health sectors, there is a growing need for better HR practices that benefit working women in the UAE. Fostering a more supportive work environment is crucial to help women reach their fullest potential, which in turn benefits the country as a whole, both socially and economically.”
Dr. May Al Dabbagh, Director of the Gender and Public Policy program and moderator of this seminar emphasized the importance of supportive policies for working women saying, “Our seminar highlighted the important productive and reproductive roles women play in our societies, even though these roles are not valued fairly in the current economic system. Based on the report discussed today, it is crucial that the findings translate into actual organization and national policies that support working women and their families on the ground.’” 
Maternity leave laws, part-time and flexi-time employment options and better compensations were among the key issues women in the public sector found as needing attention. Ms. Al Suwaidi added: “the report showed that over 72 per cent of working women prefer the option of part-time employment so that they can allocate adequate time to their children and families. In addition, 60 per cent of married mothers with children less than five years of age look for flexible working hours as a viable option.”  Clearly, working mothers employed by the private sector, with far less benefits, are also likely to need better policies and frameworks to support their life transitions.
During the seminar, Ms. Al Suwaidi spoke about the strides that the federal government has taken to be more inclusive and supportive of women. She confirmed that the new HR law of the federal government, which was approved by the cabinet and was released shortly after, had taken several of these pertinent issues into consideration. For the first time in the UAE’s history, part time employment, flexible working hours and temporary employment opportunities have been introduced and a few adjustments have been made to maternity leave and elderly leave care. Furthermore, Ms. Al Suwaidi spoke about a “new philosophy of the Federal Government,” one that “is based on equal opportunities and transparency.” With a new employment performance management system that has been piloted and approved, “there is absolutely no room for gender discrimination...all advancement in the workplace is solely based on performance.”  She gave an example of the Government Leaders Program, which, due to a more transparent selection process has now even more women than men enrolled. “The ratio now is 14 men to 16 women; this rate was much lower in the past.”
Through hosting experts such as Aisha Al Suwaidi, the Gender and Public Policy program hopes to raise awareness on barriers women face and provide solutions that help working women attain a work-life balance. The program aims to support theoretically and methodologically rigorous research that conceptualizes and analyzes gender gaps in the Arab world, while linking the research to agendas and instruments for informed policy action. Today, it has become a nexus through which research projects, conferences, training and workshops, policy debates and academic programs on gender concerns are engaged.
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