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Men Win, Women Lose: The UAE Gender Balance Awards Faces Backlash

The United Arab Emirates recently held the annual Gender Balance Index awards… and only men took home the awards.

The UAE Gender Balance awards feature three categories: Best Personality for Supporting Gender Balance, Best Federal Entity for Supporting Gender Balance, and the Best Initiative for Supporting Gender Balance.

The winner of the Best Personality for Supporting Gender Balance award is working to introduce maternity leave for female soldiers in the UAE armed forces.

While only one award was for an individual and the rest were for government officials, the high-ranking men chosen to accept the awards and pose with the ruler of Dubai created an image that was hard to shake for Western audiences.

The awards quickly became a joke online, with many people calling the evening a work of satire.

Even with the all-male images this year, the awards have had female winners in the past and the UAE is doing better than other countries when it comes to gender equality. In 2016, only 22 percent of women in the Middle East were part of the workforce. However, in the United Arab Emirates, women 15 and older make up 46.6 percent of the workforce, closer to the global average of 49 percent.

In 2017, the United Arab Emirates also launched a program to become one of the top 25 countries in the world for gender equality by 2025.

Even so, it doesn’t help that the ruler of Dubai, vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, was recently accused of having two of his adult daughters kidnapped, imprisoned, and tortured for trying to escape his control.

The UAE Gender Balance Council made a statement after the ceremony’s media attention.

“During the Index’s second edition, recipients of the Index’s awards happened to be entities led by men. This is indicative of the great and extraordinary progress we have made as a nation, where men in the UAE are proactively working alongside women to champion gender balance as a national priority,” they said.

One woman was recognized this year for her contributions to projects championing gender equality but did not receive an award.

While the UAE Gender Balance awards are a huge step in the right direction for strict Middle Eastern governments, there is plenty of progress to be made. Gender discrimination still runs rampant in the United Arab Emirates legal system, despite increased woman representation.

More women hold degrees in the United Arab Emirates than men, yet they still hold fewer positions of leadership and only recently have started the initiative to receive equal pay.

With the help of activists and an increase in female leadership, the UAE will hopefully continue to make strides towards gender equality, despite flawed leadership and strict rules. And maybe, just maybe, recognize more women for their efforts.

Featured Image by Brigitte N. Brantley from the U.S. Department of Defense
Public Domain Mark 1.0

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