The present research study is aimed at investigating the topic of gender equality in the United Arab Emirates. Despite the legislative and policy-based trajectories toward women’s empowerment and equal opportunity, studies report inconsistent changes and continuous underrepresentation of women in leadership, education, and the workplace. The study uses survey and interview methods to collect data from the sample of UAE residents and an expert to analyze the perception and experiences related to gender equality. The research questions are: What is the level of importance of gender equality for society? How can gender equality improve opportunities for men’s and women’s accomplishments? The study found that gender equality is a very important issue in the UAE; it is positively perceived, and the majority of participants do not experience inequality. However, the ones who reported inequality experiences and unequal opportunities were female participants. The research asserts that more policies and promotional activities might improve the situation.
Gender equality has been a very important issue in the social and political spheres of many countries of the world. With the movements for women’s empowerment, the tendencies toward providing equal opportunities and preserving equal rights for men and women are more deeply integrated into national policies. The United Arab Emirates is not excluded; being a globalized nation, the UAE implements more and more policies that provide women with the same rights as men (Carvalho Pinto, 2019). However, the scale to which the equality demands have been met is uncertain since there are still many arguments concerning the necessity of equality and the possibility of achieving it. It depends on the opinion of representatives of the society whether equal opportunities for both genders are important and how they influence human lives. Therefore, the research questions that require thorough investigation are: What is the level of importance of gender equality for society? How can gender equality improve opportunities for men’s and women’s accomplishments? The present research study is designed to investigate the public’s opinion on the importance of gender equality and the presence of equal opportunities for men and women in society.
There is much research on the topic of gender equality and the perception of women’s and men’s roles in society. In general, when discussing this issue, scholars refer to “gender pay gap, stereotyping, prejudice, women in boardrooms and senior management positions, the glass ceiling and gender development gap” (Patterson et al., 2020, p. 3). Indeed, the issue of gender inequality is commonly addressed through the perspective of women’s diminished and stereotyped status in the patriarchal world (Vodanovich & Urquhart, 2017. A variety of factors influencing gender equality are taken into consideration when tackling this problem, including political, economic, social, educational, and others. In particular, when taken to the political domain, the laws in many countries are claimed to take a male perspective, while in others, such as Central European countries, gender-equality laws are being reversed (Roggeband & Krizsan, 2018). Such inconsistencies and shifts in legislation related to gender discrimination and inequality of opportunity trigger controversies in societies and cause ambiguity of opinions.
Employment and education are the most frequently referred and investigated issues that are addressed in the scholarly literature on the topic of gender equality. Indeed, women are disproportionately represented in engineering and technological professions, academic and political leadership, as well as overall leading positions in UAE and in the world (Alhammadi, 2019; Miller et al., 2017; Patterson et al., 2020). An important challenge to pursuing gender equality and obtaining equal opportunities for women has been found in the stereotypical perception of women’s roles, family and workplace conflicts, and lack of social and legal support for independent business-owning (Miller et al., 2017). As for the educational field, gender differences in equality tolerance indicate that male tolerance toward equal opportunities is less prominent than female in the UAE higher education (Al Majali & AlKhaaldi, 2020). However, globalization trends impact the continuous shift in society’s perception of the importance of gender equality.
The complexity of perceiving women’s roles is one of the main challenges when categorizing equal opportunities in the workplace. Indeed, women “continue to bear responsibilities in the domestic sphere by being the main career for children and undertaking household duties such as cleaning and preparing meals” (Miller et al., 2017, p. 28). This double burden on women in contemporary society is addressed as a glass ceiling; a concept often referred to in the academic literature (Chisholm-Burns et al., 2017; Faniko et al., 2017; Geys & Sorensen, 2019; Humprecht & Esser, 2017). Although there has been much advancement in women’s liberation globally, females continue experiencing discrimination, which is why the topic’s relevance persists. Even in such a democratic society as the USA, women are exposed to inequality in career opportunities. According to Chisholm-Burns et al. (2017), “despite their advanced degrees and ubiquitous workforce presence in most professional sectors, including healthcare, business, and higher education, women are often absent from leadership roles such as chief executive officer (CEO), board member, president, and dean” (p. 312). Thus, the development of the world’s democracies toward gender equality is inconsistent.
Nonetheless, there are positive anticipations for the improvement in equal opportunities for women in the modern globalized society. The majority of the world’s community considers that women’s rights and equality of opportunities for both genders are important (Horowitz & Fetterolf, 2020). These observations are validated by some positive changes. The recognition of women’s independent status in some developing countries, as well as the increased rate of female representation at governmental positions, indicates a positive change (Bizoza, 2019; Kumar, 2017; Yousuf, 2019). Nonetheless, as the international research conducted by the Pew Research Center shows, “at least four-in-ten think men generally have more opportunities than women in their country when it comes to getting high-paying jobs (a median of 54% across the 34 countries surveyed)” (Horowitz & Fetterolf, 2020, para. 3). In the UAE, in particular, women’s roles are also perceived with positive empowerment (Al Khayyal et al., 2020; Jabeen, F., & Faisal, 2018). Therefore, it is essential to concentrate on the perception of gender equality in the UAE to analyze the prospects for positive shifts in this society under the influence of the introduced global challenges.
The research study was conducted using several methods of data collection. According to Moser and Korstjens (2018), the phase of data collection is pivotal for the overall outcomes of the research. Moreover, ethics and pragmatic approach contribute to the validity of study results (Edwards, R., & Brannelly, 2017). Therefore, the choice of data collection methods predetermines the findings and their interpretation. In order to address the research questions, the methods of survey, interview, and secondary source analysis were used. The sample for an online survey was chosen among people older than 18 years residing in the UAE and of different genders. The diversity of age and gender, as well as the homogeneity of origin in the participants, are used as the basis for findings’ credibility and consistency. The participants were asked ten yes or no questions to understand how they perceive gender equality’s importance and how they experience it in their daily lives. The answers to the questions were analyzed, and percentages were calculated to determine the prevalence of responses.
An interview as a method of expert data collection was used. The choice of an expert was justified by the person’s academic background and research experience related to the university work and studies on gender equality in the UAE. An online interview was conducted to elaborate on the reasons of gender inequality and the tendencies of the UAE society toward equal opportunities for men and women. Furthermore, the academic sources retrieved from credible journals were used to contextualize the findings according to the evidence from the literature. The articles by Miller et al. (2017), Patterson et al. (2020), Al Khayyal et al. (2020), and Horowitz and Fetterolf (2020) were of particular importance because they provided statistical information and an overview of common challenges and improvements. All of the sources used in the research were published within the past five years to maintain relevance.
The results of the survey indicate that the majority of participants (80%) consider gender equality an important issue (See Appendix 1). All of the participants considered that men and women have equal employment and education opportunities. As for the experienced equality or inequality based on gender, 85% of the surveyed participants stated they had equal rights with the opposite sex. However, 15% reported that they did not have equal rights; notably, all of them were females. A similar finding was observed in relation to the experienced injustice, where only 10% said yes, but all of them were women. The majority of participants think that there are enough policies in the country to regulate equality in gender opportunities and thought they did not live in a patriarchal society.
An important insight is that despite the overall positive perception of gender equality in the UAE, it was female respondents who displayed negative perceptions. This observation was further enhanced during the interview with an expert who emphasized the challenges in the implementation of gender equality policies. The interviewee explained that the insufficient amount of time is a constraint to the positive implementation of the policies in all domains of life. Since women have long been underrepresented, their status remains unclear and their roles ambiguous.
The analysis and interpretation of the collected data match the information collected from the literature. Overall, there is a significant shift toward gender equality in UAE society. Women have the same career opportunities as men and are as empowered to participate in educational activities and occupy leadership positions. This tendency was discussed by Miller et al. (2017), Patterson et al. (2020), and Horowitz and Fetterolf (2020), and it was supported by the empirical evidence obtained during the survey. The study proved that equality issues are of equal importance to both genders, but women still experience more prejudice and uncertainty in their roles than men. As the expert’s interview demonstrated, enforced legislation is not enough to pursue equality between genders in all spheres of life. More promotional interventions are needed as well as changes in the overall educational system to maintain consistency in the social manifestations of gender equality.
The topic of gender equality and the availability of equal opportunities for men and women in contemporary society is vastly addressed. However, the literature demonstrates that despite significant improvements in women’s liberations, female representatives of societies worldwide continue to experience discrimination and underrepresentation. Moreover, the glass ceiling concept is commonly discussed when referring to the double roles of females as those who pursue a career while caring for their homes and families. The conducted research using the interview and surveying methods unveiled the high level of importance of equality issues for the UAE citizens. However, despite the high level of positive perception of equality manifestations in their daily lives, female participants were more likely to report injustice and inequality. More promotion, legislation, and educational activities are needed to pursue gender equality and promote equal opportunities for men and women in the UAE.
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Appendix 1. Survey Questions and Results
- Are you a male or female?
- Is gender equality an important issue for you?
- Do you have equal rights as the opposite sex?
- Have you ever experiences injustice due to your gender?
- Do you think women are underrepresented in leadership in the country?
- Do you believe that women have the same employment opportunities as men?
- Do you think women have the same education opportunities as men?
- Are there enough policies to ensure gender equality in your country?
- Do you think there should be male-specific and female-specific jobs?
- Do you think that you live in a patriarchal society?
- Question 1. Male 50%, female 50%
- Question 2. Yes 80%, No 20%
- Question 3. Yes 85%, No 15%
- Question 4. Yes 10%, No 90%
- Question 5. Yes 20%, No 80%
- Question 6. Yes 100%, No 0%
- Question 7. Yes 100%, No 0%
- Question 8. Yes 90%, No 10%
- Question 9. Yes 40%, No 60%
- Question 10. Yes 5%, No 95%
Appendix 2. Interview Transcript
Interviewer: Why do you think equality of rights and opportunities between men and women have been so actively discussed in the scholarly and political circles lately?
Expert: The country did not have enough time since its independence to implement a sufficient amount of policies. Women’s liberation is a relatively young tendency in the country, which is why there are constraints to the positive implementation of the policies in all domains of life. Since women have long been underrepresented, their status remains unclear and their roles ambiguous.
Interviewer: What is needed to improve the situation with the gender disparities in the country?
Expert: Our country has a strong legal basis for pursuing gender-equal opportunities. However, enforced legislation is not enough to pursue equality between genders in all spheres of life. More promotional interventions are needed as well as changes in the overall educational system to maintain consistency in the social manifestations of gender quality.