By Andy Sambidge and AFP
UAE seeks to bolster role of women in society, after poor showing in world poll.
A Muslim woman on Thursday became the first ever female allowed to conduct marriages in the UAE and throughout the Gulf region.
Fatima Saeed Obeid al-Awani, 33, a married mother of two boys, was named to the post in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi by the justice ministry, news agency WAM reported.
Awani's appointment as "maazoun" - a job traditionally held by men - is aimed at "bolstering the role of women in society... in line with Emirati laws and without violating sharia" Muslim law, the agency said.
In March Abu Dhabi got its first woman judge and in February the number of women in the cabinet was doubled to four. Last year Abu Dhabi got its first female Emirati taxi driver.
The news of the appointment comes shortly after the Global Gender Gap Report 2008, compiled by the World Economic Forum, found that women in GCC countries were still some way from achieving the type of equality experienced in Norway, which topped the poll.
Kuwait was the best performer in the region but still only ranked 101st out of 130 countries.
Next came the UAE which was ranked 105th, the same position it held last year, and down from 101st in 2006 when the first assessment was published.
Oman (118), Qatar (119), Bahrain (121), Saudi Arabia (128) were all placed near the bottom of the table for the second year running.
Awani holds a degree in theology from the faculty of law of the University of the Emirates.
She now becomes the first woman to be allowed to write up marriage contracts throughout the conservative Gulf, but she is not the first woman "maazoun" in an Arab state - Egypt has already broken ground in that area.