(Written by Iliana Magra)
Eager to promote itself as making strides on women’s rights, the United Arab Emirates on Sunday announced the winners of its Gender Balance Index awards, with the ruler of Dubai posing for pictures with the government officials collecting the accolades.
They were all men. The irony wasn’t lost on social media users, who accused the Emiratis of tone deafness.
“I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but you forgot to invite women,” Rianne Meijer, a Dutch journalist, wrote on Twitter. Others called the awards parody, satire or just “a joke.”
In reality, just one of the four awards announced on Sunday, for promoting gender equality in the workplace, was for an individual; the other three were for government agencies. But what resonated online was the visual impression created by having only men, all high-ranking Emirati officials, be the ones to receive them.
It did not help matters that the man handing out the awards, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, monarch of the emirate of Dubai and vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, has been in the news recently because of one of his adult daughters alleged that he had her and an older sister abducted, imprisoned and tortured for attempting to escape his direct control.
The Dubai government press office did not respond to requests for comment on Monday, but it tweeted that “gender balance has become a pillar in our governmental institutions.”
As in other parts of the Arab world, women in the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven emirates, face limitations that do not exist in the West, like being unable to marry without a male guardian’s permission.
But women have far more legal rights in the Emirates than in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, where the guardianship system is much stricter. Emirati women have long been able to drive, own property and get jobs, and restrictions, like those on travelling abroad, have declined significantly.
The government recently increased the representation of women in the Federal National Council to 50 per cent, and women in the country have relatively high rates of education and employment.
Even so, the Gender Balance Index awards showed how different things look from different parts of the world. “Sorry which genders are they balancing?” Helen Shaw, a media executive in Dublin, asked in a tweet. “We see only one.”