On September 24, 2011 more than 5000 of Ras Al Khaimah’s inhabitants – including a substantial number of women – elected three new local representatives to the UAE’s Federal National Council (FNC), the 40-member organisation serving as the national legislature. Political participation by women has jumped substantially in recent years. In RAK, women have benefitted from reforms that have opened new opportunities in several areas.

EXPANDING PROFILE: Female participation in public life has jumped substantially. Social reforms, often with a focus on women and children, have been a major component of Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi’s rule. The number of higher education institutions has increased rapidly as well. In 2000 RAK was home to a single university. Since then 13 additional institutions have opened. These include the public RAK Women’s College, which is part of the federal Higher Colleges of Technology system, in addition to a variety of private institutions.

The local government has also worked to encourage women to start businesses and seek employment, with Sheikha Hana bint Jumaa Al Majid, Sheikh Saud’s wife, being a major advocate for entrepreneurship among local women. In 2008 she organised a contest for female entrepreneurs, with a grand prize of Dh100,000 ($27,220). Additionally, she played a major role in setting up a business centre at RAK Women’s College, which offers advice, mentoring and assistance with business licences.

POLITICAL PARTICIPATION: The UAE’s female population has stepped into the limelight in recent years. In the 2011 elections some 46% of the 129,271 members of the Electoral College – composed of Emiratis chosen by the Supreme Council – were female. This represents a substantial improvement over the 2006 elections, when around 18% of the college was female. Perhaps more importantly, 85 of the 469 Emiratis that campaigned for a spot in the FNC in 2011 were female.

In RAK, women accounted for 38% of the 16,850 locals chosen to vote in the 2011 elections. This number is expected to rise in the next round of national elections, tentatively scheduled for 2016. At the same time, RAK boasted the highest percentage of female candidates. Of the 60 candidates that campaigned for one of the three spots allocated for elected representatives from RAK on the council, 16 were women, which equates to around 27% of the total nominees, compared to 21% in Umm Al Quwain (UAQ), 20.9% in Dubai, 18.8% in Abu Dhabi, 17% in Sharjah, 14.7% in Ajman and 14.3% in Fujairah. When the election finished, only one women had won a spot in the FNC (Sheikha Isa Ghanem Al Ari, elected in UAQ), but the jump in female participation is a good sign for the future.

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