This year marks the centenary of the birth of the founding father of the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayhan, and I have been reflecting on how significant Sheikh Zayed’s vision of unity and solidarity remains today, as he believed that investing in people’s welfare, knowledge, and capabilities produces the greatest dividends for individuals, families, and society as a whole. I’m proud that this powerful statement on human capital not only fuels our national priorities, but is an integral part of our international development work.
I am also acutely aware of the advantages that my fellow countrymen and I have as a direct result of Sheikh Zayed’s vision, with all the related benefits of stability, good healthcare and education. That is why I believe that, if we are to accomplish the goals of poverty eradication set out in Agenda 2030, we must work together make sure that all children have a fair start in life, with the opportunity to survive and thrive. It is the only way to break down the barriers that perpetuate the cycle of poverty. Moreover, it seems obvious to me that anything that prevents women’s abilities, energies, and accomplishments to develop the social, economic, and cultural life in their countries is holding them, and their societies, back. The UAE is a testament to the advantages of promoting gender equality, as the country has benefitted enormously from making girls’ education and women’s empowerment a cornerstone of its own development; as of 2015, Emirati women represent around 40% of the local labour market, up from just 2% in 1975. This has not happened by good will alone, but is the result of strong leadership and legislation.
I am committed to sharing the benefit of the UAE’s experience, as well as our resources, through our foreign assistance work - this is why women and girls’ empowerment is one of the three focus areas of the UAE Foreign Assistance Policy for 2017-2021. Dubai Cares, one of the UAE’s donor entities, gives a strong example of our operational approach to gender. When I began working with Dubai Cares over a decade ago, we decided to strive to eliminate the underlying obstacles to girls’ primary education. Visiting rural communities in Niger, I remember the discreet excitement of young girls when they heard that a school would be built in their community. I cannot overstate the impact, on whole communities, of providing a safe and healthy environment for girls to learn. Investing in women’s and girls’ empowerment through education is one of the key indicators of a nation's social and economic progress and development, and I am excited to see how we can promote this further through our recently attained alternate board seat on the Global Partnership for Education.
We are also always mindful of the importance of working with women, both as beneficiaries and implementers of our global health programs. In Pakistan, for example, the UAE funds nearly 5,000 female, community-based polio vaccinators, who are integral to the programs’ success in reaching infant children inside compounds that male vaccinators usually cannot access. Their commitment is consistently delivering the highest immunization coverage figures in the country’s history, leading to raised immunity levels and a significant reduction in the number of children contracting polio.
I can think of few instruments so integral to ending diseases, and so laying the foundations for sustainable global development, as universal access to immunizations and vaccinations. Visiting South Sudan, I was struck by the harm and loss that preventable diseases can create when left unchecked. Extending access to basic healthcare, on the other hand, could free children of some of the world’s most devastating diseases, and give them the opportunity to grow up and contribute to society. I am, therefore, proud that the UAE is hosting the mid-term review for the Global Alliance of Vaccines and Immunizations in December 2018, and providing a platform for the global health community to take stock and lay out a vision for the future of the Alliance’s immunization strategy. In a shifting global landscape, the review is an opportunity to reflect, and push ourselves to find new ways of working with our partners to achieve our ambitious goals. In fact, these are precisely the type of conversations and collaborations that we want to bring to life at the next World Expo that we’ll be hosting in 2020 in the city of Dubai.
In parallel to these efforts, we have also embraced the simple reality that having the right data matters. As the chair of our National Committee on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), I too believe that it will simply not be possible to achieve the SDGs without an accurate picture of where we stand, broken down by gender. For this reason, the UAE has partnered with Stanford University and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fund a ground breaking study in The Lancet on gender norms and health, which is due to be published next year. The study will build out the connections between gender norms and ill health and poverty, and provides a roadmap for realizing the vision articulated by the SDGs. Without being armed with the full facts in this way, we will never know if we are making progress for men and women equally, or if there are unique barriers holding women back.
I have had the privilege of growing up in an environment where despite remarkable progress, there is no a sense of settling down, or slowing down, for what’s right and good for our people. This is the real capital that we as nation possess and must continue to share with the international community. We must all continue to aim for nothing less than equal access to health, education, and all services for both women and men, girls and boys.
Sheikh Zayed was a true visionary in many ways and, while the world has changed dramatically, the principles that he laid down remain as relevant today as when he was alive; he would often say that “the greatest use that can be made of wealth is to invest it in creating generations of educated and trained people”. Building on his legacy, we are determined to create the very best future that we can, today.