Middle East has always been punching bag for feminists around the world. It is a popular notion that women in the Middle East are subjected to harsh Islamic practices, deprived of basic women’s rights, and have very limited access to pursue their dreams. However, in the midst of all the speculation and debate from the West and the Arab world, the United Arab Emirates stood at the forefront of the fight against injustices against women and paved the way for the rest of the Arab world to follow.
Why does the U.A.E, and it’s most popular city, Dubai stand on a completely different stance on this matter?
There are several reasons but perhaps the most significant one is the leadership and vision of its ruler HH Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The U.A.E ranks highest amongst the Middle Eastern countries on the Global Gender Gap Index 2012 by The World Economic Forum. Women in the U.A.E have the right to vote, and hold public office as per a decree passed in 2007. It took U.A.E only 35 years to achieve suffrage because it’s founding father, HH Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan- a pioneer of women’s rights, and it’s current rulers dared to dream big! It was only a matter of time before the daughters of the land followed.
Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, U.A.E Minister of Foreign Trade is the U.A.E’s first female minister having been appointed after her successful stint as CEO of Tejari, the Middle East’s first business-to-business online service. She holds the first position on the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women 2012’s list and 67th on Forbes Power Women ranking not just for her vital ministerial position but she also sits on the board of directors at the Dubai Chamber for Commerce and Industry, and at the National US Arab Chamber of Commerce.
Hind Seddiqi is the Vice President of Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, the largest retailer of Swiss Brand watches in the Middle East. The company, established in 1950, is owned and managed by the Seddiqi family. Hind became the first female member of the family to pursue her dreams of joining the family business; in doing so she became a role-model for many young Emirati women in the society who have similar aspirations.
Another woman who dared to dream big is 24 year old Salma Al Baloushi, who became the first Emirati women to be appointed First Officer and earned her place in The 100 Greatest Women in Aviation, a book that applauds women’s contribution to the aviation industry. She said, “It was such an honor to be awarded with the rank of First Officer. I can only hope my accomplishment encourages many of my Emirati sisters and brothers to push the boundaries and reach their goals.” Indeed her accomplishments sent out a strong message to the Arab women- dare to dream big.
There are several passionate and hardworking women like Sheikha Lubna, Hind Seddiqi and Salma Al Baloushi who are carving a name for themselves in the corporate, political and philanthropic spheres in the U.A.E. I’m sure there are countless women with similar aspirations all around the Middle East and the rest of the world. To them I’d like to say through the words of Madonna, “A lot of people are afraid to say what they want. That’s why they don’t get what they want.” Dare to speak out and acknowledge your dreams and then have the courage to fulfill them!
American University in Dubai