Women in the UAE: Social Welfare
Women in the UAE: Social Welfare Last updated on Monday 26th April 2010
In the UAE there are two official bodies which pay specific attention to the interests of Emirati women and children. The first is within the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and is the Social Affairs section headed by the country's top female civil servant. The other is the UAE Women's Federation, headed by the wife of the President, Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak.
The Ministry is responsible for paying welfare assistance to those in need, including widows and divorced women as well as the poorer members of society. It also make specific allocations to the women's organizations in the country. The Social Security Law which came into effect in 1977 enumerates the following groups of people as being among those entitled to financial assistance from the state if required:
the totally disabled
those of limited income
women separated from their husbands
families of those serving prison sentences
those married to foreign nationals
The philosophy behind the Social Security Law is the guarantee of help for individuals and families who are facing seemingly insoluble problems while simultaneously trying to help them become productive members of society once again.
Over the past fifteen years, the number of people receiving assistance has fallen but at the same time, the average payment per recipient has gone up sharply, reflecting the increased cost of living.
In 1980 for example, there were a total of 83,076 people receiving assistance with the total sum paid out averaging Dh 3358 (US$ 915) per person. By 1992, the number of people receiving assistance had fallen to 75,867 but the value of the assistance had risen to Dh 6972 (US$ 1900) per person.
Overall more UAE women than men receive assistance (5.74% of the female population as opposed to 2.49% of males). This is not surprising given the lack of educational and employment opportunities for women in the past. It is, however, not a situation which the UAE government is content to leave as it is. The efforts being made by the state are such that Emirati women are provided with all necessary help to enable them to play the fullest possible role in their society.
As a vital part of those efforts, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is responsible for the management of a network of Social Development Centres. These were set up with the idea of contributing to the social and economic development of Emirati women, especially in rural areas, so that they will be able to play a more comprehensive role in the life of the country.
These centres offer help both in the home and in the outside world. They are responsible for the first stage in assessing those who are eligible to receive welfare assistance. They also offer advice in a variety of social and domestic situations.
Of direct assistance to women at home are the courses offered in housework with nurseries provided to the children of women who wish to attend the courses. The centres are also involved in the work of adult literacy centres which are run in collaboration with the Ministry of Education.
The Social Development Centres also help women to take a more active role in society. Recreational and social activities are organized while the centres are also very interested in preserving the traditional heritage and handicrafts of UAE women.
Heritage work groups have been established in which women continue the making of traditional handicrafts that are then sold to the public, thus providing additional income for the makers. The centres also offer simple vocational training and regular lectures on topics pertaining to culture, religion and health.
Article 16 of the Constitution states that "all necessary care should be provided to children and to the disabled" and a network of government-supported social welfare and rehabilitation centres have been set up that provide health, social, psychological, educational and vocational rehabilitation and training for the disabled.
The UAE Women's Federation is an active lobbyist for full legal safeguards for the right of the disabled to work. The handicapped are offered the fullest education possible so that they can proceed as far as they are able in the general educational system.
A number of centres for the handicapped exist. The best known is perhaps the Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services which plays a leading role in the rehabilitation of the handicapped not only in the UAE but also throughout the Arab world. A special centre for the elderly and the handicapped has been opened at the medical complex at Mafraq outside Abu Dhabi. It also includes a centre for fitting artificial limbs.
The women of the UAE have traditionally worked in agriculture. Because of this connection, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has developed an innovative programme offering rehabilitation through agricultural training. The programme is now reviving what was in the past a close association between the country's land and its women.