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Emirati Women’s Day: 10 Inspirational Women to Look Up to

Sarah Al Amiri

Sarah Al-Amiri, Minister of Advanced Sciences. Photographed by Ziga Mihelcic for Wired Middle East

Emirati Women’s Day celebrates influential Emirati women and their distinguished contributions to the nation. Launched in 2015 by HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the special day takes place annually on August 28 to coincide with the founding of the General Women’s Union in 1975. This year’s slogan, “Preparing for the next 50 years: Women are the support of the nation” aims to fulfill the UAE leaders’ directive to set 2020 as a precedent to prepare for the upcoming 50 years. This objective is in tandem with the country marking its Golden Jubilee in 2021.

The United Arab Emirates has triumphantly become one of the leading countries in the MENA to close its gender equality gap by harboring tremendous girl power and opening thriving avenues for feminist issues. In the Gender Inequality Index for 2019, the UAE leaped 23 ranks – successfully topping the Arab World and ranking 26th globally. Members of the Federal National Council (FNC) comprise 50% of women. Nine female ministers are currently serving in the Cabinet. The UAE ranks number one worldwide for female representation in parliament. The country’s leadership has pivotally focused on women’s equality and their rights, consequently breaking age-old boundaries and reaching milestone after milestone. Here are the ten most inspiring women of the UAE.

HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Mother of the Nation

Known as the ‘Mother of Sheikhs’ and the ‘Mother of the Nation’, Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak is the country’s pioneering advocate for female rights and has spent decades in her work towards the development and empowerment of women regionally and internationally. Just a few of her current positions include Founder and Chairwoman of the General Women’s Union, Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation, and President of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood. Her sponsorship of the Red Crescent Society for charitable aid and humanitarian projects has exceeded millions of dirhams. The Mother of the Nation’s resolute campaigning and numerous establishments have led to landmark breakthroughs in female literacy, representation in government, sports, and culture, successfully raising Arab women’s status globally. Her Highness’ leading role in this field has made her the recipient of various prestigious awards and titles. UNIFEM has described Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak as a “Champion of Women’s Rights.”

HE Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Minister of State for Tolerance

HH Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimii

HE Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi. Photo: WAM

In 2004, Her Excellency Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi brought about revolutionary change by holding a ministerial position in the United Arab Emirates cabinet – the first woman to ever do so in the country’s history. After her role as Minister of Economy, the UAE Cabinet further appointed her for three other posts. She is the founder of Tejari, president of Zayed University, and a distinguished board member of numerous organizations, including Dubai Autism Centre and Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation. Recognized as one of the region’s most prominent figures, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi is a philanthropist and a passionate supporter of women’s rights. In Forbes’s lists of 2017, Her Excellency ranked 12th in the 25 Most Powerful Female Political Leaders and 36th in the 100 Most Powerful Women in the World.

Sarah Al-Amiri, UAE’s Minister of Advanced Sciences

HE Sarah Al-Amiri

Sarah Al-Amiri. Photographed by Ziga Mihelcic for Wired Middle East

On July 20, 2020, the UAE successfully launched the Al-Amal (translated Hope) probe to Mars, and expects it to reach the red planet by February 2021. At the forefront of the ambitious UAE Mars Mission was Sarah Al-Amiri, the Science Lead and Deputy Project Manager at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre. She is the Chairperson of the Emirates Scientists Council and the Minister of State for Advanced Technology. In 2017, Al-Amiri became the first Emirati to speak at an international TED stage event where she talked about the first Arab initiative of reaching Mars: “The project Hope is run by a team that is under 35, a team made up of 34% women… An entire nation is putting its hope in a team of youth and presenting a message to the region.”

Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, Curator and Creative

HH Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi

Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi. Photographed by Ziga Mihelcic for Vogue Arabia

Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi is credited with enriching Sharjah’s art scene and paving the way for it to be internationally recognized. Director of the Sharjah Biennial and Founder of the Sharjah Art Foundation, she recently took over as creative director of Qasimi menswear after the passing of her late brother Sheikh Khalid Al Qasimi. An avant-garde curator, Al Qasimi passionately expanded the Foundation to include significant exhibitions and shows, residencies in visual arts, music, film, commissions for emerging talents, and a wide range of educational programs for all ages. In an interview with Vogue Arabia earlier this year, she confessed that she is a “workaholic” and said: “Having a job is important, as independence is everything.”

Zahra Lari, Figure Skater

Zahra Lari

Zahra Lari. Photographed by Sabrina Rynas for Vogue Arabia

In 2019, young Zahra Lari proudly waved the UAE’s flag at the FISU Winter Games in Russia as the first internationally competing Emirati figure-skater. Five-time champion at the national level, in 2012, Lari broke multiple glass ceilings for Muslim girls at the European Cup in Italy when she became the first-ever woman to figure-skate wearing a headscarf in front of an international panel of judges. Her points were deducted due to this, and she subsequently campaigned to the International Skating Union until officials were instructed not to consider the headscarf as a violation. According to FISU, Lari said: “That’s the main message I’m trying to send to girls, don’t let anything stop you from doing what you love, especially because you’re covered.”

HE Reem al Hashimi, Minister of State for International Cooperation

HE Reem Al Hashimi

HE Reem Al Hashimi. Photo: WAM

In November 2013, as the Managing Director of Dubai’s World Expo 2020 bid, HE Reem Al Hashimi led the UAE to witness a historic achievement: Dubai won the right to hold the World Expo 2020. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the event has been postponed to 2021. Al Hashimi is the UAE’s Minister of State for International Cooperation, and since 2007, the Chairperson of Dubai Cares – an international philanthropic organization that supports quality education in developing countries. Her Excellency staunchly supports the empowerment of women and children in the country.

Sheikha Mozah Al Maktoum, Pilot

Captain Sheikha Mozah Al Maktoum

Sheikha Mozah Al Maktoum. Photographed by Alexander Wolfe for Vogue Arabia

Captain Sheikha Mozah Al Maktoum gave literal wings to her dreams and conquered many firsts. The first Dubai royal female pilot, UAE’s first female commercial pilot, and the first woman to be appointed First Lieutenant Pilot of the Dubai Police Air Wing. In 2016, she completed the ATPL (A) First Officer Programme from the CAE Oxford Aviation Academy. Al Maktoum also wishes to inspire fellow Emirati women to pursue their dreams in the aviation sector and as a result, established the Women in Aviation Association. In the March 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia, the Emirati royal said: “I have been blessed to play my part in a country that has been at the forefront of women’s empowerment in the region.”

Fatema Fardan, Fashion Designer

Fatema Fardan

Fatema Fardan. Photo: Supplied

Fatema Fardan is an Emirati fashion designer and founder of her namesake label, Fatema Fardan Designs. In 2014, she debuted her women’s ready-to-wear collection and, in that same year at the Dubai International Film Festival, dressed actress Eva Longoria consequently receiving international praise. In 2015, she became the first Emirati to showcase her designs at the New York Fashion Week. Fardan creates elegant and sophisticated workwear for career-oriented women. She envisions her fashion brand empowering not only the working women but also mothers, wives, fashionistas, and socialites.

HH Sheikha Mariam bint Khalifa bin Saif al Nahyan, Jewelry Designer

HH Sheikha Mariam bint Khalifa bin Saif al Nahyan

HH Sheikha Mariam bint Khalifa bin Saif al Nahyan. Photo: Courtesy of MKS Jewellery

Her Highness Sheikha Mariam bint Khalifa al Nahyan is the founder and designer of MKS Jewellery. Launched in 2013, the royal specifically designed MKS Jewellery to empower women to freely express themselves by sharing their stories and believes that “women are the backbone and the moral compass of their society”. As the granddaughter of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, and the Emir of Abu Dhabi, Her Highness stands as an ambassador for all Emirati women. Through her patronage, she supports numerous causes and charities, including initiatives for the UAE-Jordan run Syrian Refugee Camp Mrajeeb Al Fhood.

Nayla Al Khaja, Filmmaker

Nayla Al Khaja

Nayla Al Khaja. Photo: Instagram/@naylaalkhaja

The first female Emirati film director and producer, Nayla Al Khaja’s prestigious contributions have vastly expanded the UAE film industry. In 2018, Al Khaja reached a historical milestone at the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival when she became the first Emirati to have her project, Animal, accepted by the Producers Network. She has written and directed many short films, documentaries, and movies, including Unveiling Dubai, The Neighbour, and The Shadow. CEO of Nayla Al Khaja Films and founder of The Scene Club (Dubai’s first film club), Al Khaja supports newfound talent and continuously advocates for women’s role in cinema.

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