‘Nothing could delight me more than to see a woman taking up her distinctive position in society. Nothing should hinder her progress; like men, women deserve the right to occupy high positions according to their capabilities and qualifications.’ – Late Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Founding Father of the UAE.
As the UAE celebrates its 51st National Day, it is heartening to note how women have been a major catalyst in the quantum leap the country has made in the last five decades. The quintessential Emirati woman is a sister, a daughter, a mother, a wife and dedicated nation builder, playing all the roles with poise, grace and dedication. Emirati women form 66 per cent of the public work force and over 70 per cent of the total graduates in the UAE. They occupy important positions in every sector including banking, judiciary, healthcare, education, aviation, police, army, retail, marketing, playing a seminal role in nation building. There is a magical synergy to this equation between the women work force and the country’s meteoric success story.
Just as every drop in the ocean is important, the contribution of every Emirati woman in the progress of UAE has made a significant difference.
Friday speaks to six achievers.
Making UAE future-ready
Deputy CEO, National Bonds
Starting her career as a schoolteacher Rehab Lootah, who has a master’s degree in business, finance and IT, has broken traditional moulds and worked hard to be part of the top social achievers’ marquee.
Before joining National Bonds, Rehab played a seminal role in the Smart Dubai campaign assisting 23 government departments go digital. ‘That was an exciting time and I felt happy to contribute to such a significant transformation. I love to push my boundaries and that is why, later I decided to switch to the private banking sector, establish the best traditions of Islamic banking and eventually join National Bonds. I am happy to be part of National Bonds, as I believe the fiscal health of the nation matters. I want to be working every day with people teaching them the basics of fiscal management and encouraging them to have a robust saving and thereby financial freedom,’ says Rehab.
She feels the female work force of the country has been empowered with all the support from the government. ‘I feel incredibly lucky to be born in the UAE where women make for more than half the work force in the public sector. We have over 20,000 women entrepreneurs making their mark in private enterprise. It is an exciting time in history.’ Rehab’s word of advice for Emirati women: ‘As we get future-ready, it’s important we never stop learning as acquiring knowledge is the best way to stay ahead of the curve.’
A crucial contributor to the saga of building brand Dubai
Laila Mohammad Al Sohail
CEO Partnership and Alliances Dubai Tourism and and Permanent Board Member on Dubai Gold and Jewellery Group
A marketing, retail and cultural powerhouse, Laila M Sohail’s name is inextricably linked to the unfolding story of building brand Dubai.
A business and marketing specialist with an MBA from London Business School, Laila began her career in 1993 when the emirate was taking baby steps towards establishing the best retail traditions such as the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) among other strategies.
Born in a traditional family of seven siblings near the Old Dubai Creek, Laila nurtured a deep and abiding love for her emirate and country. ‘In the early nineties, I had the most amazing experience of working closely with visionary leaders on the Dubai Shopping Festival campaign.
‘The first DSF campaign was launched in 1995 and I was part of that team and over the years I grew and evolved as a person with the campaign. We worked to establish Global Village which now has become an iconic retail destination, then launched Dubai Summer Surprises and Modhesh, our DSS mascot. Our summers have never been quiet or silent after that.
‘Now I am working closely on a Destination Dubai campaign for choosing this place to create their unique memories of weddings, engagements, first birthdays, golden jubilees... Dubai presents endless potential and over the years I have learnt so much from this experience and grown as a person with the success of these campaigns,’ she says.
It was not only marketing and retail that Laila excelled at; she was also able to further the cause of women in sports as head of sports committee for Dubai Sports Council. ‘Our committees worked on different strategies to attract women to a world of physical activity and sports, and this also indirectly helped women have better confidence and better performance all round.
A project close to her heart is that of enhancing the jewellery sector. ‘The traditional gold souk is an iconic place with a strong jewellery retail tradition. Where else in the world will you see 1000 kg of gold in different traditional and modern designs openly on display? The new Gold Souk extension has added new possibilities of growth and I feel blessed to be part of the Gold and Jewellery Group to facilitate new plans of expansion. The possibilities are awesome,’ says Laila.
She feels the story of UAE in the last five decades has also been the story of empowerment and success of its women. ‘I want to tell all Emirati women they are blessed to be a part of the UAE. Love yourself and love your nation. All you need is a passion, a dream and a willingness to work hard, and the nation is standing with you. Make sure you equip yourself with the right kind of knowledge, education, and skills, and the world is your oyster.’
Taking off on a dynamic trajectory
Salma Al Beloushi
First Emirati woman pilot with Etihad Airways
In 2011, Salma Al Beloushi made history as the first female Emirati pilot to fly Eithad Airways flight EYI 091, from Abu Dhabi to Athens. She was the first UAE woman to join Etihad Airways’ cadet programme in 2007 where she received extensive training and was able to graduate with flying colours as a First Rank Officer.
‘It was an exhilarating feeling to watch the world from an altitude of several thousand feet; it was such honour,’ recounts Salma about storming a traditional male bastion and inspiring other UAE women to break the glass ceiling.
Today, after having done 12-15 flights a month as an Airbus A320 pilot, and up to four flights a month aboard Airbus A380 for over a decade, Al Beloushi has clocked over 4,000 flying hours, blazed her own trail and has become an icon to several Emirati women on the cusp of an empowering journey. With all the active flying success behind her, Salma has now taken up job as an important member of the accident investigations team of the General Civil Aviation Authority.
Speaking to Friday Salma said, ‘When I was a little girl, I saw the photograph of UAE’s first woman pilot Ayesha Al Hameli and made a promise to myself that I would be like her one day.’
Beginning with a career in nursing which was also her passion, Salma was finally able to give wings to her dream with the flying programme. ‘I feel blessed to be born in a country where the Rulers have such a generous vision and inclusive development goals. They have provided all women with the support and encouragement to excel in any field of their choice,’ says the pilot, who belongs to a conservative family from Al Ain and is an inspiration to several other women in her family too.
Proud to be an Emirati, Salma expressed her own observation, ‘A large percentage of the UAE work force today comprises women. Today in aviation alone, there are at least 60-70 female Emirati pilots. One can see we have come a long way and this empowerment would not have been possible without the active support of our beloved Rulers and their vision.’
Salma wants women to not only understand the value of commitment, consistency and dedication but realise the full import of ethical responsibility that comes with taking up any kind of job. ‘I want to tell all young aspirants that if you have a dream and are willing to work hard, you can fulfil that easily with the support from government which is all in support of women. However, it is important to remember that all jobs carry with it a great responsibility.
‘As a pilot which is a fascinating job, comes the onus of being responsible for lives of hundreds of passengers. I want women to think and choose carefully. Every job can be beautiful and besides the job, you must not forget the supportive community that is your immediate family, you friends, you spouse and your children. It is this unconditional support from government and community that goes a long way,’ she says.
Building a sustainable health care system
Dr Muna Abdul Razzaq Al Tahlak
CEO of Latifa Women and Children Hospital and Chief Medical Officer of the Dubai Academic Health Corporation
Dr Muna Al Tahlak has spent several years in the health care sector. A familiar figure, heading the Latifa Hospital that has set new standards in women’s health, Dr Muna now also heads the newly established Dubai Academic Health Corporation that was formed to create a culture of academic research and excellence within the health care community.
Recalling the formative years of her early life, Dr Muna says, ‘I grew up in Dubai, studied in a local school in Karama and my heart fills with pride for my country and its wise leadership that has had such a clear vision in pursuing its number one goal of building human capital. What women like me have achieved today, is testimony of that vision.’
Reminiscing about her student days, she says, ‘The tremendous support we had as students was humbling. Not only was education free, but we also got school uniforms, nutritious meals, transport and any kind of tactical support we needed, because all our Rulers wanted was to give us the best education.
‘I recall that my school had some excellent teachers who went beyond the curriculum to teach us about culture, etiquette, manners and to dream big. My science teacher in grade seven realised I was fond of science, and she gifted me a box full of lab materials to conduct experiments at home.
‘It seemed that all stakeholders in the community had a single-minded purpose in helping us feel positive and empowered. We would have the media do interviews with the best students that were published in Arabic newspapers,’ reminisces Dr Muna, who is now making sure that same spirit of enquiry and scientific research is nurtured to produce the best results.
‘The UAE has one of the best health care systems in the world. With the newly formed Academic Corporation we are making sure that this infrastructure is transformed into a sustainable system of learning, discovery and research where we are able to push goalposts towards greater excellence.’
Dr Muna’s message to women in the current generation: ‘Dream big, do not hesitate and be prepared to work hard to achieve the highest standards of excellence in your field.’
Creating the perfect recipe for success
Student at the International Centre for Culinary Arts
Ayesha, 14 years old and a grade 9 student at an Abu Dhabi school, inherited her love for cooking from her mother and grandparents and has been trying out dishes since the tender age of four.
Speaking to Friday of her unique culinary journey, she says, ‘My country is known for its tradition of hospitality and generosity, and I have organically imbibed that. For as long as I can remember, I have been fond of cooking. At the age of four, I would take a chair to reach the cooking tabletop and assist my mother in cooking. I was the official food taster for the family and intuitively knew what was missing in a dish; what needed to be added or subtracted to get the perfect taste. By the age of six, I was creating my own unique omelettes and other recipes, and by the age of 9, I won the Kidzania young chef award from a group of 180 children,’ recounts the young girl about her passion for cooking.
Her passions have got stronger with age as her love for UAE. ‘Today I create all kinds of dishes from around the world, but my inspiration has been my nation which has given wings to my dreams and helped me realise them,’ says Ayesha who also created a special menu for Etihad Airways in-flight food fare.
With support from community and parents and extended family, Ayesha has currently enrolled into the leading culinary school in Dubai, the International Centre for Culinary Arts and has been diligently pursuing her diploma to be an amateur chef, even as she continues to balance her school studies with it.
‘My country has inspired me and supported me in allowing me to follow my dreams and I would like to give back once I am capable and make it proud. Food has an emotional connect with people and a history that unites people through the taste buds. I intend to open a chain of restaurants, a culinary school and major in ‘Food as medicine’ that could heal people with eating disorders,’ says the young girl whose message to every girl is to work hard to fulfil dreams.
‘I love cooking all kinds of dishes but what inspired me to excel at my art is the enthusiasm and passion of our country to excel at everything. I am proud to be an Emirati and celebrate the best cooking traditions of my country in the dishes I prepare even while I try to learn so much from the world,’ she says.
Nurturing best health care traditions in the community
Ayesha Al Mulla
Director of Friends of Cancer Patients (FOCP), Pink Caravan
Inspired by a strong and abiding desire to make a change in the world by working with other aspirational women of UAE, young Ayesha Al Mulla has come a long way in achieving that dream. First as the head of Big Heart Foundation and currently as the director for FOCP. Talking about her passion for humanitarian services, Ayesha says, ‘I graduated in Business from the Higher Colleges of Technology, Sharjah . But serving humanity worldwide in the field of health and philanthropy has always been my passion. I got an opportunity to live my dreams first with the BHF and now with FOCP. In both cases, I have had a chance to mitigate suffering of people, help the underprivileged and improve their health care prospects. I feel blessed to be born in the UAE to be able to fulfil my dreams.’
She feels the secret of success of the average Emirati women lies in the progressive support they receive from family and the country’s leadership. ‘I belong to a family of working professionals. We are seven siblings and both my parents have always inspired us – three sisters and four brothers - to nurture individualism and have enviable goals. I have been fascinated by the work of Shaikha Jawahara bin Mohammad Al Qassimi, who has worked hard to create greater awareness, early screening for breast cancer and education about different kinds of cancers as well as lending logistic and financial support to the underprivileged to combat this disease. I feel happy to have this opportunity to make a difference, says Ayesha.
Most Emirati women of the present times feel empowered and inspired to participate in the unfolding story of UAE’s success and Ayesha feels it is the best time for every woman to achieve her dreams. ‘I feel with hard work and dedication that is inspired by the dynamic vision of the leadership of the country, it has been possible to achieve new milestones in healthcare in the country. I would like to tell thousands of young women to come forward and participate in nation building by joining hands. Have passion and a dream and be willing to work hard, the country will always support you.’