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UAE’s support for women in science, technology, engineering and maths praised

ABU DHABI // The UAE’s support for women in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) was discussed at a meeting of the United Nations commission on the status of women.

At the session held in New York this year, Dr Lamya Fawwaz, the executive director of public affairs at Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, talked about the participation of women and girls in those areas, including providing women with equal access to employment and work opportunities.

Dr Fawwaz said strong support from the UAE Government was probably the biggest driver in women’s increased participation in Stem professions in the country.

“Starting from scholarships that provide advanced education, to internships with innovative companies, to the constitutional rights to equal pay and maternity leave, the leadership has done everything possible to make education and profession easy for women,” she said.

The UAE’s plan to transform itself into a knowledge-based economy underscored the exciting importance of the Stem subjects, said Dr Fawwaz.

Women in the UAE “serve as beacons of inspiration to the next generation”, as there were increasingly more role models, she said.

“Girls and young women see these successful, productive and empowered women and want to not only be like them, but be even better,” Dr Fawwaz added.

A Masdar Institute study in 2011 found that role models and family members were among the key considerations for UAE women in deciding what to study. For those reasons, the institute had several women academics on staff.

“An Emirati woman with a female relative working in the science or technology field is twice as likely to pick a Stem field,” said Dr Fawwaz, adding that the perception that these subjects could be too difficult to study was an obstacle.

She said schools should help eliminate the perception so that girls would not be deterred from studying them. They also have an important role in teaching Stem subjects to children, to help foster their interest and to provide them with the skills and confidence for academic success, according to Dr Fawwaz.

Dr Fadi Aloul, the only Emirati academic at the American University of Sharjah, said the number of women in Stem professions had increased because they had realised the positive impact they could have on UAE society.

“The students like to see they are making a change, changing a social problem, like helping to save the environment,” said Dr Aloul. “There is also an abundance of jobs and good pay in this area, so this is a factor as well.”

Emirati Meshayel Al Ali graduated from Masdar in June last year and was hired by the Ministry of Energy as the head of climate change after doing her masters in engineering systems and management.

“The area of energy and sustainability is very trendy nowadays and there are more choices for us,” she said.

“The leaders brought us these opportunities, like Masdar, so education is different compared with the past.”

Ms Al Ali said Emirati women liked to take on challenges.

“People like to be different to others, and taking on these challenging topics is better than focusing on things like business, which everyone else is doing,” she said.

“We can serve our country with confidence and help put it on a level with other countries. The same rights given to men are given to women, so we have the same options to choose.”

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(via The National)