On Thursday, a three-member panel closely affiliated with Expo 2020 Dubai convened a few days ahead of Emirati Women’s Day 2021. Falling on August 28, the day underscores the crucial role Emirati women play in the nation’s progress and was first established by Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the General Women’s Union (GWU), Chairwoman of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, and Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation (FDF), in 2015.
Previously, Expo 2020 received the spotlight for having announced a dedicated pavilion for women. An unprecedented move since the 1900s in World Expos, the Women’s Pavilion will stand proud when the exposition commences on October 1, 2021, under the much-needed banner of ‘When Women Thrive, Humanity Thrives’.
Of the many inspirational women behind Expo 2020 Dubai, Maha Al Gergawi, Senior Vice President of Political Affairs, Expo 2020 Dubai; Hind Alowais, Vice President, Participant Management, Expo 2020 Dubai; and Nadia Ziyadeh, Deputy Director, Expo Unit, US Consulate General, Dubai, came together to share their special journey and women-centred plans for the upcoming world fair in a webinar moderated by Shaima Gargash, Deputy Chief of Mission, UAE Embassy in Washington, DC.
For a more equitable tomorrow
A World Expo, a six-month opportunity for ingenuity and alliances, taking place for the first time in the Arab region demands attention to inclusivity and equity. And Expo 2020 has already set the ball rolling with each of the 191 country participants getting the chance to tell their own story in standalone pavilions.
“We hope that through the Expo 2020 platform we’re able to ask countries and communities questions that revolve around creating a fairer and a more inclusive future for humanity,” said Al Gergawi.
The webinar opened with a timely clip of Reem Al Hashimi, UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation and Director General of Expo 2020 Dubai, speaking about Expo's role in uplifting women in an interview with US-based news media CNN. On Women’s Pavilion, she said that the thought process was to showcase what happens to a community and humanity when women are front and centre.
We cannot imagine that we would have this Expo without paying tribute to the women who are part of nation-building. We cannot go against something that has been instilled in our principles, in the fabric of the UAE and in our societies to not continue in that same narrative of supporting women.
Alowais affirms by saying: “We cannot imagine that we would have this Expo without paying tribute to the women who are part of nation-building. We cannot go against something that has been instilled in our principles, in the fabric of the UAE and in our societies to not continue in that same narrative of supporting women.”
On Saturday, Alowais joined hands with Nissan, Expo 2020's official automotive partner, to mark Emirati Women's Day in a short clip posted on the car manufacturer's Twitter account. In it she touches on how far the nation's women have come while driving around the Expo site: “You will be hearing about Emirati women for many years to come.”
Emirati women leaders of Expo 2020
The Women’s Pavilion has more than 150 events in the pipeline, part of which will focus on the contributions of women in Arabia and Islam.
“Sometimes – a lot of the times, actually – we forget about these contributions,” said Alowais. “[For instance], the first higher learning institution was created by a Muslim woman Fatima Al Fihri in Morocco.”
“The very first World Expo in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region is being led by a woman,” Al Gergawi said in reference to Al Hashimi, who has been at the helm of Expo 2020 Dubai since its bidding days. “When I walk into the office and look around me, over 50 per cent of our workforce in Expo [consists] of women, 61 per cent of which are Emirati in leadership positions. Empowering women is very much in tandem with the next 50 years of the UAE.”
The very first World Expo in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region is being led by a woman. When I walk into the office and look around me, over 50 per cent of our workforce in Expo [consists] of women, 61 per cent of which are Emirati in leadership positions. Empowering women is very much in tandem with the next 50 years of the UAE.
When Gulf News asked about any empowering anecdotes, Ziyadeh supplied that meetings with Al Hashimi are always electric and inspiring. “Her excitement for Expo and the way she explains it to people and the visitors makes you want to put in all of your energy and dedicate all of your time to making sure it’s a huge success.”
A teaser of women-focused programming
Given the Women’s Pavilion’s extensive list of programming, Gulf News also asked Alowais for a preview of collaborations with country pavilions. Sports fans can look forward to a forum centred on ‘Unstereotyping the world of sports for women’ hosted in partnership with the Australia Pavilion, featuring several other countries. Here, biases against women in sports will be brought to surface in hopes of dismantling them.
“The discussion will feed into our International Women’s Day, which is also under the same objective of unpacking invisible barriers that prevent women’s leadership in different sectors, sports being one of them,” she added.
The European Union (EU) is also part of the line-up, and it is coming to the pavilion to host a full-day event around women in the world of work and motherhood. Talks will be given by prominent figures in the EU and from other countries in an effort to include as many diverse voices as possible.
‘Women: Ambitions & Inspiration for Next 50 Years’
This year the Emirati Women’s Day was commemorated under the theme of ‘Women: Ambitions & Inspiration for Next 50 Years’. Scaling through the incredible achievements, Al Gergawi finds her inspirations in the UAE female pilots, educators, frontline workers and the women scientists leading the Mars mission.
But it was also imperative, she added, to acknowledge that any woman can be inspiring irrespective of her position or title.
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- The writer is an intern with Gulf News.