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The New Role of Women Education in the UAE and South Africa


The results of the international cooperation presented in the MDGs by 2015 have included many aims for the developing and developed countries. In this paper, the MDG 2 and 3 and the steps the UAE and South Africa have made to follow them are analyzed and compared. Regarding MDG 3, this paper analyzes how females in the UAE and South Africa seek for empowerment, recognition, and redefinition of their rights. Moreover, taking into consideration MDG 2 that implies universal primary education importance, the role of these countries in promoting primary education for everyone is discussed. As a result, the analysis gives evidence that the international goals of the United Nations have influenced both South Africa and the UAE considering the female rights and education.

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Empowerment, Recognition and the New Role of Women and Promoting Universal Primary Education in the United Arab Emirates and South Africa


The countries of the Middle East have always been known for misogyny and sexism. However, nowadays, it is clear that such previously neglected problems are common not only for the Islamic countries, but for many of the developing countries. Therefore, it is quite logical that empowering women and gender equality have become one of the MDGs by 2015 (Sachs & McArthur, 2005). Girls and women play a crucial role in any educated society. In such a way, gender equality and education are closely interconnected notions and important factors that can contribute to the economy of the developing countries and harmonize them with global campaigns. For this reason, the aim of this research is to study and compare the roles of the UAE and South Africa in attaining the millennium development goal. Mainly, MDG 2 that deals with promotion of universal primary education, and MDG 3 that is focused on the promotion of gender equality. The topic question that will be answered is: “What is the current role of women in the society and how these countries are achieving their MDG number 2 and 3 in the UAE and South Africa to empower women through education and gender equality?” Thesis statement: the UAE and South Africa help to solve the issue of economic growth, poverty reduction, and gender equality by means of education, legal statuses and title claims.

Countries Profiles


The UAE is well-known for its Islamic traditions affecting women in society. In the Arab world, women have always been considered as weak and inferior to men (AbuKhailil, 2014). There exists a non-governmental UAE campaign that predetermines the dress-code of all women in the UAE (AbuKhailil, 2014). Islamic traditions in the United Arab Emirates largely affect women and, consequently, the whole social and economic life of the country. Being a part of their Muslim and Arab culture, which has some constraint when it comes to women and rights, they are subjugated. The female rights to such activities as education, travailing, going out, and visiting their families requiring the permission of the male guardians are denied (AbuKhailil, 2014). Nevertheless, nowadays, the role of UAE women has changed due to their rights that enable them to take part in economic and political life of the country. The advanced position of women in the UAE has been caused by the oil discovery and the struggle of the United Arab Emirates to meet the MDGs. This can be done by empowering women, creating a more suitable environment for females in the society. In the UAE, women’s economic empowerment and their active involvement in education began to be supported via micro-economic financing programs. In 2007, UAE women surpassed the 90% mark in literacy (Ghafour, 2008). This was the biggest ever since the MDG initiative. It created a population of 24% more than men in terms of continuing higher education. In fact, it is one of the highest percent with a remarkable 77% turnover among the total number of females who attend their higher education courses. The new responsibilities of women in society have successfully emerged, and females have been approved the right to have the same responsibilities as men both in the society and work. The UAE has a good potential in the economy with rising per capita income and a sizable yearly trade surplus (Ahmed et al., 2010). Therefore, economic efforts have been intensified as the struggle to attain millennium development goals is intensifying.

South Africa

South Africa is the most developed country in Africa. It has a thriving economy and high per capita income. It has good infrastructure and good education system. It has organized and disciplined military force (Chengu, 2014). However, gender equality and poverty are two of its challenges. South Africa has a long-standing belief concerning the role of women in society. According to it, females are considerably less important for the social and economic life of the country than males. South Africa has been topping the chart for the number of cases against violence in women for a long time (Faul, 2013). However, the economic and political developments that happened in the 20th century in South Africa presented women with new opportunities to empowerment. Some efforts were taken through a holistic approach, programs, policies, initiatives, and gender-specific perspectives that are made for females who have been the victims of oppression, discrimination, violence, rape, and other types of abuse (Faul, 2013). Therefore, the objective of the global campaign and the government is to help women and girls start a new life, adapt to their social environment, create opportunities for the improvement of their societal status, achieve respect from their male counterparts and contribute to the economic success of the nation. A long-standing belief concerning the role of women in society should become less important in many spheres. This will lead to the crime rate will decrease, and the economic and social status of the country will rise.


The purpose of the current research is to find out and compare the steps taken by South Africa and the UAE in direction to the Millennium Development Goals. According to the general characteristics of both countries, the Selected MDGs that are the most challenging were chose. They are MDG 2: “Promote Universal Primary Education” and MDG 3: “Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women.” In order to reach this purpose, the analysis of primary and secondary sources that comprised books, articles and reports was made. A qualitative approach was followed together with the descriptive method explaining the relations in the countries. A comparative analysis was made to investigate the difference between methods used in two countries. A descriptive survey was used since it provides accurate and credible data from the reliable sources.

Literature Review

There are countries that remain elusive in recognizing the value of women amongst them. According to AbuKhailil’s “Women in the Middle East” (2014), women were almost always considered as weak beings. However, their unfortunate situation has started to be changed with their increasing calls from the outside environment and the reaction of the outer world. The World Bank (Malhotra & Schuler, 2005) studied the discrimination of females. As a result, they marked out the main aim as “to change the status of women and recognize their potential and strengths” (Malhotra & Schuler, 2005). The above mentioned issues were common for both countries – the UAE and South Africa.

For this reason, the MDG 2 and 3 became quite timely for them. In his article, Ghafaur (2008) emphasized the Islamic traditions affecting women in the society of the UAE. At the same time, Faul’s report (2013) shows that South Africa has been topping the chart for the number of violence against women. In another MDGs analysis, Sika(2011) recognized gender equality as the main point to be addressed by the Arab and African world. At the same time, the author marked out that the Arab world is “on the right track to achieving the most of the MDGs by 2015” (Sika, 2011). Easterly argues, “Africa will miss all the MDGs” because of he initially lowered primary completion and enrollment, which can be changed, but is not likely to reach the necessary level (Easterly, 2008). In the past, women had no access to education and were not allowed to work. James (2006) argues that the MDGs fail to differentiate between real and possible results.

One problem, for example, is that achieving universal primary education has a consistent relationship between specific means, such as primary education, and basic literacy. Yet, the differences are also within developing regions in achieving universal primary education (James, 2006). However, the United Arab Emirates, as well as South Africa, are trying to achieve the MDG 3 (Kabeer, 2009). In the UAE, female economic empowerment as well as their active participation in education began to be supported through micro-economic financing programs. In 2007, UAE women surpassed the 90% mark in literacy that was the biggest ever since the MDG initiative. It created a population of 24% higher than men in terms of continuing higher education. In fact, it is one of the highest percent with a remarkable 77% turnover among the total number of women who attend their higher education courses (Groenewald, 2011).

The new roles of women in society have successfully emerged, and females have been granted the right to have the same responsibilities as men in work and in the society. There are a lot of employed women in non-agricultural environment (Malhotra.& Schuler, 2005). Meanwhile, the amount of seats in the parliament equals those of male counterparts (Malhotra & Schuler, 2005). The female education has also increased greatly in the UAE, and Kindar (2010) marks out the Gulf Cooperation Council as contributing greatly to this growth. In South Africa, there also exist programs, initiatives and policies designed for women who had been the victims of oppression (Chengu, 2014). These initiatives and programs change women’s lives and provide opportunities in pursuing their own potential with dignity (Nako, 2013).

MDG 2: Promote Universal Primary Education


The UAE has been looking at the education access as the key factor of the country’s success, development and prosperity. The proportion of women in higher education in the UAE since 2007 has risen remarkably taking the top position in the world (Kirdar, 2010). The 2007 report on achievement of MDGs in the UAE stated that the share of females in higher education has developed to two times that of male students. In 2004, realization of literacy was 90% in 2007, ahead completion of high school, about 95% of Emirati women go on with higher education and comprise approximately 75% of the student population at the national universities. Females comprise 70% of university graduates in the UAE.

South Africa

The key goal of South Africa is the improvement of women’s education opportunities in South Africa. Till 2014, the South Africa has expanded the primary enrollment. However, it is seriously “off-track” the universal rate (Easterly, 2008). They link education with employment, fertility, and important elements of women's empowerment. A stronger emphasis on the English learning and implementation of the non-payment school program are another step to globalization (Groenwald, 2011).These goals get only rhetorical support in several cases. Priorities that are more urgent are to eliminate the remnants of apartheid legislation and to improve social and economic conditions for children, for the poor, and for other groups that were disadvantaged in latest decades. Gender inequalities appeared to be decried, although relegated to secondary importance. The male education is still better placed in South Africa.


It is clear that these two countries put many efforts to improve education for female members of the society. Thus, the universal primary education is in the process in both nations. The financial grant for education from the government in South Africa has supported the number of the educated poor and female representatives. However, the UAE is more likely to reach the universal level than South Africa.

MDG 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women

1. Employment


There are a lot of employed women in non-agricultural environment constituting 43% compared to 41% of men (Malhotra & Schuler, 2005). However, discrimination in hiring, compensation and promotion still exist (Ghafour, 2008). Women take about 2% of the UAE's top executive positions, 35% in the national workforce, about 20% embrace administration positions, and 80% are household workers (Madsen, 2011). UAE women have the uppermost rate of partaking in the GCC countries employment. Women in the UAE have taken average percentage of vacancies within traditionally male-dominated professions in the government, science, engineering, commerce, law, computer technology, and oil companies. The UAE possesses the biggest number of businesspersons in the business sector, which provides the required social flexibility among women's cultural roles at home and quickly emerging various career aspirations.

South Africa

The possibility to work and bring income into the family has enabled women in South Africa to influence the household decision-making (Kabeer, 2005). The employment of women from 2000 till 2007 has risen by 10 or more percent in agricultural, mining, electricity and water supply, finance and other business spheres (James, 2006). At the same time, the indicators have raised for both formal and informal employment. Such changes are predetermined by legislation, attention to working conditions and new HR practices. A framework in which government laws, policies and plans were to redress past imbalance and to improve the conditions of individuals and groups who have been underprivileged on the grounds of race, disability, or gender. In the public service, policies, plans and strategies have been ensured to be free from overt gender discrimination; mainstreaming and gender equality are promoted.


Discrimination in female employment still exists in both countries. Nevertheless, substantial progress can be observed in the agricultural, financial and some other business spheres. However, the plan of South Africa to catch up with the universal norms and even the UAE is more likely to bring failure for the informal employments and much less women hold the executive positions in South Africa

2. Politics


In the UAE, 30% of the ministerial posts, diplomatic service, and senior administrative positions are represented by women. Governmental employment among females in the public sector has risen to 22,2 % in 2005, and 66% in 2007. 30% of the ambassadorial service, higher-ranking administrative positions and ministerial posts are held by women. In 2008, Sheikha Najla Al Qasimi and Hassa Al Otaiba became the first women ambassadors of the United Arab Emirates; later the first female judge Kholoud Juoan Dhaheri was assigned (Madsen, 2011). In addition, the UAE became the second Middle East nation with a woman as a marriage registrar. By 2006, 22.2% of the Federal National Council was accounted by women. Furthermore, the minister of state post is a woman, the first female minister in this position in the UAE. Women are allowed to work in Government departments, the police service among them.

South Africa

The political empowerment of women in South Africa is not substantial. South Africa is on the 8th place among the African countries regarding the number of females in the Parliament (Smith, 2013). By 2013, 42,3% of seats are held by women. Although it does not tell much about the status of women, it shows the rise of women’s rights. However, there still exist limitations about females’ abilities to attain leadership roles.


The development in the political sphere regarding women empowerment is obviously essential in both the UAE and South Africa. At the same time, the essence of forming the part of the Parliament is low if the abilities to make decisions or become leaders are low. Therefore, this is the second point that proves that the South Africa will hardly reach the MDGs by 2015.

3. Economics

The UAE and South Africa

Improvement of women’s economic opportunities is the main factor leading to the economic growth and poverty reduction (Chengu, 2014). A reduce in capital flow in developing nations, form of foreign investment, bank lending, or portfolio flows, is putting many sectors of all countries at risk of bankruptcy and closures are the results of gender discrimination for the UAE and South Africa. The development stimulus packages have started, as the ILO revised its projected number of vacancies by the end of 2009 due to the crisis from 54 million to 34 million (Groenewald, 2011). The gender gap has gradually been narrowing since 2005, but is not closed. Nonetheless, the attempts of the UAE in gender gap closing have raised their GDP by 12 %, while female participation in economic raised the GDP per capita by 27 % in South Africa.


Empowerment of females in the UAE and South Africa provides an immense opportunity of positive changes in women's lives. Improvement of women's economic opportunities is considered the main factor leading to the economic growth and poverty reduction, and both countries have put much effort to close the gender gap in the economy. The global community should change its attitude to women's economic empowerment and think about future investments in women.


The UAE and South Africa have begun to step forward to the recognition of the important role of women in society including the spheres of politics, economics and many others. Among the achievements of these countries regarding the MDG, one should mark out the modern UAE constitution that guarantees equal gender equality including access to education, legal status, and title claims. Economic empowerment of women in the UAE and South Africa helps to solve the issue of economic growth, poverty reduction, and gender equality. Therefore, globalization, economic and political development of the UAE and South Africa has provided women with empowerment, recognition, and has caused the redefinition of their rights. Women have become more active outside their homes and have been calling for political, economic, and social empowerment. New responsibilities of women in society have successfully emerged, and females have been approved the right to have the same responsibilities as men both in the society and work.

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