GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
Carvalho Pinto
First Name:
Title of Paper:
Genderframing Leadership: Emirati Women as leaders within the context of labor nationalization processes
Paper Proposal Text :
The situation of Emirati women in society has changed greatly in the past forty years. Even though traditional understandings of womanhood associated to motherly and wifely duties still prevail, they are now enmeshed in new meanings connected not only to the impact of globalization in social relationships and practices, but also to the necessities of nation building. Within these very wide, complex and dynamic processes, the Emirati state has been promoting, even though at varying rates and in different moments in time, the education, employment and political participation of women ever since the country’s establishment in 1971. To this state-led strategy I call genderframing; a continuous and decades-long ideational support campaign directed towards the reshaping of women’s roles. Female responses to the state’s Genderframe have varied; while some women have overwhelmingly responded in a positive manner to this call; others have chosen to continue living their lives within the boundaries of female traditional roles. There has not been indeed a direct or easy link between the state’s ‘offer of rights’ for women (an ongoing process full of contradictions, advances and drawbacks), and society’s or women’s acceptance of them. Genderframing women’s rights has entailed looking for ideational elements within the cultural universe of the target group (values, beliefs, ideologies and the like) in order to present the education, employment and political participation of women in a positive light and in ways that could lead to society’s acceptance of female participation. A case in point was employment.
Genderframed as a religious and cultural entitlement, fully acceptable by religion, it had as its end goal the training of local human resources so that they would be able to participate in the country’s economy. It should be reminded that since the numbers of the indigenous population were extremely small, it was necessary to educate and train as many people as possible, including the women. There were (and there still are) substantial difficulties in promoting female employment and in rendering it acceptable to families. Some of the difficulties – that affect different segments of society in varying degrees – have included the perception of female seclusion as a token of family wealth and prestige; the general lack of necessity of women’s contribution to household expenses; ideas about the potential negative effects of female employment in family life; and finally, concerns regarding both the type of employment females are able to engage in as well as the potential dangers of exposure to unrelated men that having a job could entail.
The promotion of female employment has been closely related to the Emirati state’s nationalization policies of substitution of expatriate labor force with local workers; a process known as Emiratization. In the latter years, the success of this policy has been thought to lie in the imparting of leadership skills to nationals so that they could compete successfully with qualified expatriates. The idea of women as leaders, however, has still found considerable opposition. Women are still generally perceived as being extremely emotional and as lacking decision-making abilities. The resilience of these sorts of attitudes after decades long of genderframing may be explained by the fact that the early promotion of female employment has hitherto focused merely on the permissibility of female employment and not on women’s leadership skills per se. Seeking to address this issue, the Emirati state has recently inserted new discursive elements into the genderframing of female employment in order to legitimize females’ decision-making positions. This was done by, for example, ‘clarifying’ stories of Arab women’s participation in historical events. Women’s roles were not restricted to that of mere participants, they were leading events. In addition, women’s activities during the Trucial era and their contribution to the family’s subsistence were reinterpreted into that of a ‘golden past’ of female engagement that should be emulated in the present.
This paper seeks to further explore these above dimensions. It will proceed by analyzing secondary literature and primary data, particularly recent official speeches concerning Emirati women’s leadership. It will also resort to insights acquired during a period of fieldwork research in the UAE from 2007-2008.