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Women in the UAE

“This article was published in the Italian Industry and Commerce office newsletter (IICUAE) “

History was made for Women in the UAE when Nora Al Matrooshi, on April 10th, was selected as the first female Emirati astronaut. Undergoing “rigorous tests” for fitness, communications skills and teamwork, she was selected from a pool of 4,305 applicants. As a mechanical engineer, she has been working for the National Petroleum Construction Company in the UAE.

This is a testament to the great strides being made in the UAE in terms of female empowerment. In fact, contrary to the views of a lot of ex-pats and tourists, UAE female equality has become a major factor in the region with many new developments being adopted by the government.

Although the UAE is a Muslim country and women’s rights, there, conform to Islamic law, it is a leader on gender equality ranked/being in the first place on gender equality in the Gulf and 18th in the world, according to the Gender Inequality Index (GII) published in 2020 by the United Nations Development Programme. It ranks 18th in the world.

The developments in UAE are made more evident when you start looking at the business and financial sectors, where/in which recent legislation changes show how the current situation on gender equality in such sectors has progressed/is progressing in the country.

In fact, it is now mandatory for the UAE Public Joint Stock Companies (PJSCs) listed on either the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX) or the Dubai Financial Market (DFM) to have at least one female board member. Specifically, pursuant to the decision made by the Securities and Commodities Authority (the Chairman of the Authority’s Board of Directors’ Decision No. 8 of 2021), the Joint Stock Companies Governance Manual (Clause 3 of Article 9 of the Joint Stock Companies Governance Manual attached to the Chairman of the Authority’s Board of Directors’ Decision No. 3 of 2020) has been amended to be read as follows: “The company’s articles of association shall define the method of forming the board of directors, the number of its members and the term of membership, provided that the representation of women shall not be less than one member in the formation of the board of directors. Moreover, the company shall be obligated to disclose this representation in the annual governance report.

In 2016 the Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA) had already started to promote diversity in the UAE PJSCs by stipulating a minimum female representation requirement of 20% on the board of directors of a PJSC. However, under the prior legislation compliance with this requirement was on a “comply or explain” basis whereby non-compliance was acceptable as long as this was reasonably explained in the PJSC’s annual governance report.

In other words, there is no longer an option to comply or explain. It is now mandatory to appoint at least one female member to the board of directors of the PJSCs.

We previously used to accept explanations if there wasn’t compliance, but now we are moving to make female representation compulsory,” the SCA’s Chief Executive Officer Obaid Saif Al Zaabi was quoted as saying by The National News. “So now there must be at least one female member on the board of any listed company.

Public Joint-Stock Companies listed on the ADX or DFM are required to comply as soon as possible with the minimum female board representation requirement to avoid the imposition of any of the penalties for breaches of the Joint Stock Companies Governance Manual set out under Article 82 of the same.

Just as UAE history was made with the first female Emirate Astronaut in April and world history was also being made, when the Hope probe, on February 9th successfully navigated its way, 493 million km away from Earth into Martian orbit. History is frequently being made with new legislation in the UAE. Today is a better the best time than ever for intrepid female ex-pats or aspiring entrepreneurs to understand the possibilities in the UAE brought about in part due to the progressive and innovation-driven nature of the UAE’s governance.

This article was written by our Senior Associate Francesco Bulleri               

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