Emirati + Women = Double Minority

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Minority double_

Do you ever look around and sometimes feel like you’re just floating and observing things around with a bird view? Analyzing everything from an outsider perspective, and realizing many things that may seem to skip the people in the situation you’re observing? So I frequently observe few things such as:

  • How in spite the fact that women constitute around 50% of the country’s population, nevertheless:
    • The higher you get in corporate ladder, or governmental decision making circles, the percentage drops to maybe 5%.
    • In most important high level discussion panel events, in most fields, women are either non-existent on the panel, or chosen to be just the moderator of a men panel, or you’ll see one female panelist along with 5 men panelists.
    • In awards and ceremonies, you either don’t see a single woman being awarded or find 5%-10% of the awarded members are women.
    • When women are represented in men majority panels or meetings, sometimes, they make it harder for women to speak by not giving her the chance to speak, or constantly interrupting or by constantly disregarding and disagreeing what she said.
  • The inconsistent Emiratis inclusion in cultural sphere awards, literature sphere to be specific. Granted, this can be a natural outcome when Emiratis constitute less than 20% of the population, but if we’re trying to document the culture and the identity, then we need to ensure in every literary category we recognize Emiratis contributors. What do I mean?
    • You’ll find a number of great awards for best authors, best unpublished manuscript, best book illustrations, best publisher and so on. And most of the times, you don’t see Emirati winners among them. And that’s in both Arabic and English literature awards. Which is yet again understandable because:
      • In Arabic literature, you can’t compare the product of a nation that had been involved in the publishing industry for a 100 years like Egypt and Levant with a product of a nation that is rather still new in the publishing industry and writing skills.
      • Same applies in English literature, you can’t compare British and American writers who have been as a culture exposed to publishing, reading and writing for centuries with writers who barely recently started to the culture of writing, set aside writing in English.
      • But being at the infancy stage shouldn’t mean you get lost in the crowd and don’t get recognized now should it?

So what can we do about all this? First of all, I think we need to recognize there is an issue when it comes to recognizing women and Emiratis. Not only are they sometimes not recognized, but also, sometimes there is complete blindness to the fact that they are in many times absent from the scene. Not due to lack of talents, but more of unconscious biasness. So what can we do?

When it comes to women, here is what I suggest:

  • When planning a new discussion panel in an event, ensure a balanced gender quota among your panelists. If you can’t find women to fill the quota, its normal, it’s because you’re not used to recognize them as authorities and as expertise in their fields. So what you need to do is look harder, ask around, ask institutes, ask people from within the field, whatever you do, don’t stop looking, they’re probably around and you never recognized they are expert in the field you’re looking in. If you couldn’t find, then look for expert women in close fields and expand the panel discussion.
  • When it comes to awards, let’s learn from the Oscars, Olympics, and so on. For each category they ensured two awards one for men one for women. Unconscious gender biasness is everywhere, and unless we ensure explicitly we look for both genders we are bound to always recognize one over the other in certain fields, so the best way to ensure they all get recognized without being overlooked just for their gender is to specify an award for each. So we need an award for best author woman and best author man, best achiever in any specific field to be given for a woman and a man. I can’t even begin to list the number of times I attend awards ceremonies that all end up being given to men. For the fear of single story, we need to make sure we see both genders on each award, if we want to empower women we need to let them see that they too can recognized and have women they can look up to.
    S., ensuring having women on the award committee that evaluates and chooses winners is also essential to ensure gender balance in the winners.
  • From my experience, I’ve been vocal the most in meetings that included considerate self-conscious men who ensured I get my say and would ensure they silence the bullies so I can say it out loud. By time, I was able to build my own voice on my own. But there are still certain tables that I completely lose my voice in, because I would either be the only woman or one of a few, and the men on the table would just not even acknowledge our presence set aside allow us to speak (Yes, this still happens).
    I also teach in university, and the class I’m teaching this semester barely has 3 ladies with 18 local guys, the ladies by default become mute, It’s easy to forget about them and just carry the class with the guys who answer questions loudly and instantly without allowing others a chance to participate, but cause I’m conscious about the gender divide, I have to constantly be aware of their quietness and try to silence the loud and always on spot answering guys to enable the ladies to answer and be part of the discussion.
    This mindset of always ensuring the women talk is very essential, and we need to have at least one person with this mindset in every decision making table. It’s not easy, but good things are rarely easy so we need to strive for better inclusion.
  • When it comes to literature awards. I think it’s pretty straightforward. We need a new category in every literature award that is focused on Emiratis, whether in English literature or Arabic literature. And let’s not forget the point above, and branch this further to best Emirati in both genders.

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