Women around the world achieved remarkable accomplishments in 2018. Particularly in the Middle East, where many misconceptions still exist.
2018 was a groundbreaking year for women internationally, characterised by historic political victories and movements which ignited international conversations underlying harassment, gender-pay gaps, race and equality.
Viral hashtags, #MeToo and #TimesUp, trended on social media and dominated headlines. The MeToo movement became a worldwide phenomenon, encouraging millions of women to speak out, elevating consciousness surrounding harassment and assault, and sparking the beginning of an important cultural transformation.
The New York Times dubbed 2018 the “Year of the Woman” after females ran in record numbers in American election history, winning more seats in Congress than ever before. Palestinian-American, Rashida Tlaid, and Somali-American, Ilhan Omar, made history as the first two Muslim women elected to serve in Congress.
Spain also made history when their newly elected Prime Minister appointed a majority female cabinet – 11 out of 17 members are women. No country in the world boasts a higher proportion. Rewind 30 years ago, Spain had not one female member
Closer to home in the Middle East
Saudi Arabia monumentally lifted its ban on female drivers. The Kingdom also made history when Lubna Al Olayan was appointed as the first woman to run a publicly listed bank.
In a landmark decision, the UAE passed legislation stipulating women must occupy 50 percent of the country’s Federal National Council in the coming parliamentary term in 2019. A law set to rank the UAE among the top worldwide when it comes to representation of women in parliament.
Undeniably, great strides were made by womankind. Particularly in the Middle East, ironically, where perhaps the most misconceptions of what it means to be a woman exist.
Hailing from Sydney myself, when the time came to announce my decision to relocate to Dubai to family, friends and colleagues, I came to loathe what seemed to be the all too common response of “will you be able to work there?” Or, the other antiquated cliché I’d personally like to see the back of, “won’t you need to cover up from head to toe?”.
Dubai is a cosmopolitan city, in fact the world’s most cosmopolitan city as named by global consultancy McKinsey & Co. in 2018. Whilst the region is traditionally conservative, it is not as ‘conservative’ as people may expect.
Truthfully, many women come to Dubai, cultivate profitable businesses and rise to success faster than possible where they originally hail from.
The UAE celebrates women.
A developing country with a largely entrepreneurial spirit, it recently ranked 11 out of 20 in the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ report, climbing 10 places from the preceding year. Boundless opportunities exist for the open-minded, perhaps more so than in other markets laden with competition and higher barriers to entry.
Inclusive and progressive legislation such as a mandatory female presence on public and private sector boards, as well as a recently approved issuance of a Law on Equal Wages and Salaries for Men and Women, enables women to not only advance, but to soar.
Truthfully, many women come to Dubai, cultivate profitable businesses and rise to success faster than possible where they originally hail from. Donna Benton, Founder and CEO of the Dubai headquartered loyalty and rewards app, The Entertainer, famously sold an 85 percent stake in her business for a rumoured USD $100M just last year after. She arrived to Dubai from Melbourne in 2000 with just AUD $3,000 in the bank. Benton is a huge advocate for female entrepreneurship in the region, often speaking publicly to dispel common stereotypes of a male dominant environment.
Industry’s top influential female figures
I recently sat down with Safura Abasniya, General Manager of Aston Pearl Real Estate, and questioned whether she believed the UAE, more specifically Dubai, was an environment which empowered women to thrive. Her response was an unequivocal, “one thousand percent!”
She came to Dubai at just 21 years of age, mentioning that all the misconceptions about women in the UAE, even those that existed 10 years ago, were completely wrong. Although, you do not realise that until you are here. “If I didn’t come to this country, I wouldn’t be where I am now anywhere else”, she proudly says.
Another well-respected industry figure, Alessia Sheglova, Managing Director of one of Dubai’s top brokerages who graced the cover of Prestige twice last year, uses social media as a platform to holistically showcase her life as a businesswoman in Dubai. The collection of snaps she shares offers followers a look into her career, family life, work-life balance and the financial freedom her success has afforded her.
Her motive: to inspire young entrepreneurs and real estate professionals. Though, perhaps unaware, her message is much more powerful than that. To me, her profile serves to break stereotypes; showing a woman can do it all, without being confined to, or inhibited by, labels. She is a representation of the freedom and balance which exists for females in Dubai.
There is no single, universal definition of the term ‘modern woman’. The role of women in society is evolving. More importantly, gender roles overall are evolving. While this rate of change may vary across countries and cultures, it can be said that women in the UAE face no more, or no less challenges than they might in other cosmopolitan cities.
Executive Assistant to CCO at Property Finder
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This article was first published in Prestige Vol. 39.