women's pavilion expo 2020
Under the theme of 'New perspectives: When women thrive, humanity thrives', the Women's Pavilion is a novel initiative by Expo 2020 Dubai, the first world expo since the 1900s to dedicate a stand-alone pavilion to empowering women. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: No world expo since the 1900s has ever dedicated a pavilion solely to women until Expo 2020 Dubai stepped up to erect the aptly and succinctly named Women’s Pavilion for its six-month exhibition. And as ubiquitous as the discourse on gender disparity has been in recent times, the majority of the world is still rubbing shoulders with the elephant in the room – we still have a long way to go.

“The international community has made progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment, but much more needs to be done,” says Reem Al Hashimi, UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation and Director General of Expo 2020 Dubai.

On Thursday, the universal exposition unveiled its creative content and programming for the pavilion through a moderated discussion featuring Hind Alowais, Vice President of the International Participants Department at Expo 2020 Dubai, and Sophie Doireau, Managing Director of Cartier Middle East and India.

The international community has made progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment, but much more needs to be done. By welcoming visitors from across the planet and from every walk of life, Expo 2020 Dubai is a unique, powerful platform that will drive the necessary attention to this issue.

- Reem Al Hashimi, UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation and Director General of Expo 2020 Dubai

Under the vision of Al Hashimi, the Women’s Pavilion is a joint effort between the organisers and French luxury goods conglomerate Cartier, which according to Cyrille Vigneron, President and CEO of Cartier International, is a unique collaboration of public and private corporations.

Women’s Pavilion in collaboration with Cartier at Expo 2020 Dubai Expo 2020 Dubai

“At Cartier, we believe that empowering women has a multiplier effect: it helps drive economic growth and development, and benefits societies and humanity at large,” adds Vigneron. “We are honoured to take our long-standing support to women change-makers further by collaborating with Expo 2020 Dubai and present the Women’s Pavilion to a truly global audience.”

When women thrive, all of humanity thrives

It’s no secret that closing the gender gap can boost economies worldwide, but even the United Nations’ latest reports have yet to detect a crack in the glass ceiling. The Women’s Pavilion leverages Expo’s multidisciplinary platform to remind the world that ‘When women thrive, all of humanity thrives’ – a theme and principle to reflect in more than 115 events slated for the programme.

“[The pavilion] is setting a needed standard for corporations to rethink their approach to gender advocacy. And [it] is a powerful platform to cascade the gender equality message to the world,” says Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, who applauds the UAE’s driven commitment to highlight the challenges women face every day.

[The pavilion] is setting a needed standard for corporations to rethink their approach to gender advocacy – and [it] is a powerful platform to cascade the gender equality message to the world.

- Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women

Breaking stereotypes and deconstructing misconceptions on women’s roles, the pavilion will raise awareness by showcasing both female and male contributors to women’s empowerment and gender equality, inspiring visitors of all ages to become change-makers within their own communities and beyond.

“We need to recognise that women’s issues don’t stand in a silo by themselves,” says Alowais. When asked about the pavilion’s budget, Alowais told Gulf News that rather than numbers, the pavilion was a human investment, an end-product of the various stakeholders involved.

A constellation of brilliant women

Twinkling lights resembling constellations against the black of the night decorate the Women’s Pavilion facade, depicting solidarity and femininity of women.

“No matter where [women are] coming from, we all represent these constellations of stars. When you see them all in one, they paint one picture – the women of the world,” says Alowais. “We might be individuals in how we exist, but together, we’re facing one challenge, one experience and that is of inequality.”

women's pavilion press con
A moderated discussion featuring Hind Alowais, Vice President of the International Participants Department at Expo 2020 Dubai, and Sophie Doireau, Managing Director of Cartier Middle East and India, at the Women's Pavilion press conference on Thursday. Image Credit: Gulf News/Sahar Ejaz

Known personalities make up the diverse community of creators and artists who have directly contributed to the pavilion design and exhibition curation:

  1. French architect Laura Gonzalez, inspired by Cartier’s creative heritage, reimagines the constellation-like upper part of the pavilion facade, together with young Emirati artist Kholoud Sharafi and French light designer Pauline David.
  2. International multidisciplinary artist El Seed, who was born in France to Tunisian parents, will transform the lower part of the pavilion exterior with Arabic calligraphy to spread messages of peace, unity and to underline the commonalities of human existence.
  3. Lebanese actress and Oscar-nominated film director Nadine Labaki will direct the Women’s Pavilion’s introduction movie, highlighting the theme ‘When women thrive, humanity thrives’.
  4. French actress, screenwriter and director Mélanie Laurent takes over the second floor of the pavilion to curate an immersive exhibition fostering dialogues across cultural, artistic, and social fields in three sections. The first section highlights the universal link between women and their ecosystems through a sculpture and a series of exclusive photographs shot and selected by Mélanie. The second section invites visitors to discover a virtual reality film, showcasing stories of women from all over the world, known and unknown, as they navigate through their experiences. The third and final section brings an exclusive audio-visual art piece to life reflecting women’s voices across the globe.

Al Hashimi also highlights the vital role Emirati female leaders such as Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, wife of the President and Chairwoman of the UAE General Women's Union, and Sheikha Hind bint Maktoum bin Juma Al Maktoum have played in gender equality and women’s empowerment (GEWE) in the UAE.

‘New perspectives’ exhibition

On the ground floor of the Women’s Pavilion, visitors will find five structures associated with different narratives:

  • Introduction: expressing the purpose of the pavilion
  • Achievements: shining a light on women’s impact on the world
  • Challenges: acknowledging what is holding women back
  • Solutions: highlighting the initiatives enabling women to thrive so humanity can thrive
  • Engaging with visitors: encouraging visitors to become champions of gender equality and women’s empowerment and take the journey forward
women's press con
Further events include a Women’s World Majlis series to address the role of women in creating a cleaner, safer and healthier world, as well as a ‘Women in Arabia and Islam’ series highlighting real-life stories of women. Image Credit: Gulf News/Sahar Ejaz

In line with Expo’s dedication to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as laid out by the UN, the Women’s Pavilion will host a series of sessions that will tackle the role of women in sustainable development, biodiversity and space exploration, adapted to the exposition’s focus week agenda.

Further events include a Women’s World Majlis series to address the role of women in creating a cleaner, safer and healthier world, as well as a ‘Women in Arabia and Islam’ series highlighting real-life stories of women who have led the way throughout history, inspiring other women from across the world to reach new heights.

The pavilion's Majlis is a vibrant and inclusive space for all – including artists, scientists, thought leaders, politicians, entrepreneurs and business leaders – to engage in constructive and solution-oriented conversations on women’s empowerment.

Leaving a tangible mark

The Women’s Pavilion is staying on to become a part of District 2020, a smart city of the future that will come into existence post-Expo.

“[At District 2020] we will have the opportunity to continue building partnerships and collaborations to advance the agenda of gender equality and women’s empowerment,” says Alowais, adding that the future plans will eventually align with the UAE’s spirit of centring the progress of women as it has been doing since its inception.

- The writer is an intern with Gulf News.

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