This may sound contrary to what you know about women's rights in the United Arab Emirates. With some global human rights bodies voicing concern over the lack of women's rights in the UAE, the country has topped a global ranking in terms of treating women with respect.
Three times in a row, the UAE has secured the top position on treating women with respect in the global social progress index. The annual index is prepared by a team of prominent international economists as part of an initiative launched by the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council.
The UAE has also scored high in the social progress index for the lowest level of violent crimes, the lowest homicide rate, the lowest under-nourishment rate and the highest rate of enrolment in secondary education.
These achievements give a strong voice to Amal Abdullah Juma Karam Al Qubaisi, the first female speaker of the UAE parliament, known as Federal National Council.
“We are very fortunate with all the support we get from our best partners -- men, who have always been there with us, supporting us, believing in us, respecting us,” she said elaborating men-women partnership in the UAE.
In the UAE, women also have “great partnership with them [men] in all what we do especially in building our country towards having a comprehensive, sustainable and balanced development,” Al Qubaisi said.
“We always think about the bigger picture and also we think about the future,” she said in an exclusive interview with The Daily Star during the recently-concluded Inter-Parliamentary Union conference in Dhaka.
“Today you will find that women empowerment in the UAE is number one in the Arab world,” she claimed.
One of the important keys to women empowerment is education, she said. “In the higher education, our percentage is over 80, one of the highest in the world.”
The speaker portrayed herself as an example of women empowerment in her country.
“I am the first female speaker in the Arab world. For the UAE, it's no coincidence that women have reached leading positions,” she said, adding that it was possible because of education and work opportunities were opened to them a long time ago.
She was the first woman to be elected as an MP of the UAE in 2006. She was elected the first deputy speaker in 2011. In 2015, she made history by becoming the speaker.
Al-Qubaisi obtained her bachelor's degree in architecture from the UAE University and both master's and PhD degrees from the University of Sheffield in the UK.
She is also the first female top official in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), an economic and political union founded in 1981. Its member states are the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman.
Al-Qubaisi is not the only woman holding an important position in the UAE government. Currently, the UAE has eight female ministers.
Women also occupy about 75 percent of positions in education and health sectors, and their representation in parliament stands at 22 percent.
The UAE wants to be in the top 25 in terms of gender equality by 2021 through women's empowerment initiatives, said a report of Gulf News on March 7.
According to the report, women in the UAE make up 66 percent of public sector workers, and 30 percent of them are in leadership roles, while women aged 15 years and above constitute 46.6 percent of the labour force.
Al Qubaisi said the UAE has women judges, and even jet fighter pilots, police, army personnel.
“We've a huge number of businesses led by women. They contribute highly to the economy.”
She said the UAE has embraced democracy and the engagement of the people. People of more than 200 nationalities live there in peace and harmony, she noted.
“We have also embraced many values ... One of them is tolerance. And also happiness.”
Speaking about the UAE government's strategies to make people happy, Al-Qubaisi said her government has launched some new ministries -- the ministry of future, the ministry of tolerance and the ministry of happiness.
“We believe that to be able to see the future you need to plan for it from now and be better prepared.” She said they were trying to build a knowledge-based economy and that would be possible through education and skill.
It is important to promote peace and security as the world is now facing threats of terrorism and extremism, the speaker said. “It is important to fight it [terrorism] through ideologies.”
She said they have been “promoting tolerance” and “it is part of our basic principles”.
The tolerance ministry is working in this regard. “Apart from this, we have happiness ministry. People think that happiness is only related to feeling.”
Happiness actually is people's satisfaction of the services they can get, she observed. “Once they are satisfied, they will feel happy.”
Explaining further, Al-Qubaisi said the UAE was working to ensure the quality of services provided by the government and private sectors. Besides, a positive and encouraging work environment and a healthy life make people feel happy, she said.
“It is great to be living in a country where the leadership, the government and the parliament have one goal. They set their vision together on having their people the happiest. That's what the UAE is working on.”
In the overall social progress index of 2016, the UAE was 39th among 133 countries.
The UNDP Human Development Index 2016 also recognised the UAE as a country of achieving very high human development. In the index, UAE ranked 42 in the world.
“We work together united for shaping the future and this is what the UAE stands for... ,” she said.