The plight of climate change demands gender parity

26 JUN 2021
Opinion articles Strategic Platforms

By: Dr Lamya Nawaf Fawwaz is Executive Director for Brand & Strategic Initiatives at Masdar

The UAE’s bid to host the 28th session of the Conference of Parties (COP 28) global climate summit in 2023 came with an unequivocal message that gender equality is “inseparable” from achieving a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable future for all. Gender parity is a fundamental human right and essential to realizing the other United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in addition to helping bolster global efforts to tackle the climate crisis.  

Guided by the principles of our founding father Sheikh Zayed, what was also clear from the UAE’s bid is that we must empower women to have a meaningful say in the decision-making processes that will shape our lives going forward.
The country continues to do invaluable work in progressing gender equality through the visionary policies of the wise leadership, in line with the United Nations SDGs.

This year, the UAE topped the World Bank’s highly respected ‘Women, Business and the Law’ index for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, acknowledging the groundbreaking reforms that are supporting women’s economic empowerment. 

It also ranked first regionally in the 2020 UN Development Programme index on gender equality, and is one of only a few countries that has passed a law requiring equal pay for equal work, as well as mandating all listed companies to have at least one female director on their boards. 

At Masdar, as we celebrate our 15th anniversary, we are accelerating our work to drive female participation in sustainability, one of the defining issues of our time.  

WiSER (Women in Sustainability, Environment and Renewable Energy), our women empowerment platform, developing leaders in the sustainability arena, recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with London-based Arab International Women’s Forum (AIWF) to inspire women of all ages to play a more active role in addressing global sustainability challenges and to give them better opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. 

By improving women’s access to quality education (SDG4), we are able to contribute towards eradicating poverty (SDG1), increasing access to decent work and economic growth (SDG8), gender equality (SDG5), reduced inequalities (SDG10), peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG16), and zero hunger (SDG2); as well as redress deepening inequalities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Good education for girls and boys is a cornerstone of the UAE’s Vision 2021 and Centennial 2071 plans. As a result of strategies such as these, we now have 77 percent of Emirati women enrolling in higher education after secondary school and making up 70 percent of all university graduates, whilst 56 percent of UAE government university graduates in STEM fields are women.

The world, however, needs to do much more to boost women’s access to education globally.  The pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities, where poverty is one of the most important factors for determining whether a girl can access and complete her education.  

Currently, 132 million girls are out of school, according to UNICEF, with a substantial number living in the world's most impoverished countries.  It is likely that some of these girls will never return to education when schools reopen. 

Countries like the UAE are stepping up efforts to reach the hardest hit parts of the world. In 2020, we were ranked 11th in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) table of the largest donors in terms of official development assistance as a share of gross national income, and before this, first for five straight years from 2013. 

This year, Dubai Cares allocated US$2.5 million over the next five years to support the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) in facing challenges related to students' access to proper education, especially girls, in addition to the work it is doing in 60 developing countries. 

By reaching out with humanitarian aid in this way, we are also fulfilling the gender equality ideals of the late Sheikh Zayed, who said: “The woman is half of the society; any country which pursues development should not leave her in poverty or illiteracy.”

His enduring legacy also lives on through the Zayed Sustainability Prize (ZSP), the UAE’s pioneering global award in sustainability, which has positively impacted 352 million people since 2009, and whose global high schools projects have helped 425,000 people since 2013. 

Gender parity is thus a central issue in climate action, and building a more sustainable and prosperous future for all. We could all learn from the UAE’s example in working as hard as we can to achieve it if the outcome of COP is to be meaningful.

By: Dr Lamya Nawaf Fawwaz is Executive Director for Brand & Strategic Initiatives at Masdar