New sparks of Diversity awareness in the Gulf region

Most States around the Persian Gulf receive publicity for fundamental issues with many dimensions of Diversity. It is there for notable that recently disability, LGTB and – more substantially – gender have been publicly addressed.

Holding high profile women’s events in the Gulf Region has become an effective tool to flag out the absence of basic rights for women in many Gulf States. For example, the Arabian Business Women’s Forum provides an annual forum to discuss ongoing gender issues in business world in general and in the workforce and in management in particular. End of May 2016, the event also featured a panel discussion on Gender Diversity in large Corporations as well as a presentation on what business executives really think about female leaders. Discussions generally focus on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the regional intergovernmental union of all Gulf States except Iran and Iraq.

At this year’s Forum, Lubna Qassim, the only woman on the Emirates NBD’s management team, made strong statements about she saw the state of Gender equality in the region. “Sadly, there is still inequality. (…) It was 200 years ago when women were allowed to participate in the workforce and yet there are not enough women participating”, she was quoted in the press. Women make up 59 % of the National UAE workforce and 66 % of the Public Sector – the largest numbers in the GCC region. Oassim called the numbers “depressing” and criticised that the world was still led by men and they were the real game-changers. Consequently, she called upon male supporters and gave Sheikh Mohammed as an example, who appointed the first female government official in the UAE in 2004.

Maybe she could also consider Salman al-Ouda as an Allie. As a very high ranking religious leader from Saudi Arabia, he surprised the world during a visit of Syrian refugees in Sweden. “Even though homosexuality is considered a sin in all the Semitic holy books, it does not require any punishment in this world”, he said, adding that homosexuals were not deviating from Islam. These statements are exceptionally remarkable, coming from a Saudi Muslim Scholar from a country where homosexuality is still ‘illegal’ with harsh punishments ranging from floggings to death penalty. Although Ouda also reaffirmed clear limits by saying that while homosexuality did not distance oneself from Islam, the Islam does not encourage individuals who have same-sex attraction to show their feelings in public, he was subsequently criticised on Social Media.

Back in the neighbouring state, UAE, an official claimed that firms should do more to attract people with disabilities. Khaled Al Kamda, Director General of the Community Development Authority (CDA) criticised the Private Sector in ‘Arabian Business’: “They [some private sector firms] think having someone with a disability is a liability rather than someone who can deliver,” he in quoted, adding “employing them for the sake of employment is not the same as creating employees they can depend on”. Since last year, twelve employers have been working with authority to develop programmes that will help them employ more disabled people, Al Kamda reported. His authority does not fund the projects but serves as advisers to both the employers and the employees with a disability. Al Kamda has now publicly requested that more companies should follow the few examples, emphasising that “the responsibility of employment is on all companies, rather than only the government”. Issued a decade ago, the Federal Law No. 29 concerning the rights of people with special needs was the first law in the UAE to protect the rights of people with disabilities.