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Journey of Emirati women in four decades

From homemakers to leaders, Emirati women have come a long way

Image Credit: Supplied
Reem Al Fahim
Gulf News

Dubai: Reem Al Fahim, CEO of Sedra (Services for Educational Development Research and Awareness) Foundation, is an example of an Emirati leader who has excelled in her field and says that her generation was lucky to grow up with a very different mindset and opportunities, which she said was thanks to the education they received.

“It is important to say that as Emiratis growing up, our gender was not important; what mattered was we always received the same message — we should educate ourselves and make use of everything that was being developed for us, so we can prepare to give back to our society,” she said.

Sedra is a non-profit organisation that acts as management consultants for public and private institutions and enablers empowering children, teenagers and adults with disabilities and their families.

“Speaking for myself, being in the social field, it wasn’t the idea of being successful to make money or become a leader; it was always because of the service [involved]. How can I best be of service to my country and what were the needs? How could I step up?”

She was always reminded by her grandmothers and aunts of the importance of making the most of the opportunities.

“While growing up, they (grandmothers and aunts) always reinforced the message that you are so lucky to be able to learn … Please don’t waste these opportunities and these years.”

Open-minded people like her father, who has been always supportive of the aspirations of his four daughters, were raised by the older generation of women and their teachings.

What she has learnt from the first generation of Emirati women, which she said she will pass on to her children is, “Take pride in everything that you do and give 150 per cent to everything that you do.”

'Incredible how much has changed'

“Anyone who can work should work till the day he/she dies,” says Fatima Humaid Hudaiba Aldarmaki, as she takes a short break from her perfume-making to speak with Gulf News.

The 60-year-old Emirati mother of 10 and a business owner has come a long way from the young girl in Al Ain who did not even get an education until she was married with three children.

She thanks the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Her Highness Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, Chairperson of the General Women’s Union, Supreme Chairperson of the Family Development Foundation and Chairwoman of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, for everything that she and other women like her have achieved.

“It is incredible just how much has changed in such a short space of time,” said Aldarmaki.

Aldarmaki is the founder of Nefayef Perfumes, a business she started when she realised just how popular her homemade perfumes and incense were in the community. With a shop in Abu Dhabi’s Delma mall and plans to open a second branch in Al Ain early next year, she recalls a time when her current reality was not deemed probable.

“In the old days, when I was a young girl, women were raised to be very shy. They were strong, with strong ideas and personalities but we were brought up to not be ‘loud’, that was just the culture in those days,” she said.

Aldarmaki said that Emirati women were always strong and hardworking, explaining that she remembers women going back to work on farms as early as a day after giving birth, something she said you will not see today.

However, she said education was not big on the agenda in those days, specially among women, instead women were expected to marry and run the house and all the responsibilities that came with it.

“But things started to change with Shaikh Zayed’s leadership. He educated people about the importance of education, for everyone,” she said.

“The community has changed, mindsets have changed,” said Aldarmaki. “If a woman wants to be anything today, and she is capable, no one will stop her. This is our society today,” she added.

“Women are 50 per cent of the community, one hand cannot clap. Emirati women have always done their part in the community and thank God, they have achieved enormous success in all levels and fields,” she said.