Image Credit: Gulf News

Women can help empower women.

You don’t need to be a CEO of a company or a government minister to help raise the status of women in society.

Helping other women to break the glass ceiling can be done through a smart idea; all it needs is strong belief and the effort to implement it.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting a group of Emirati women who came from different walks of life in Dubai.

What was remarkable about these women was that they gave hundreds of others an opportunity to open new horizons and fulfilled their wishes.

These amazing women came together for the Dubai triathlon for women that was held in early November.

I am not an athlete, but I try to exercise regularly.

Like most people, keeping my weight under control is a priority. In addition, journalism is a stressful career, and it requires sitting for long hours.

Therefore, sports seems to be a good idea to cope with the aches of the modern life.

I wanted to participate because it was a unique and historical event. As a colleague put it, “Years from now, you could proudly say that I was part of the history in making.”

After the competition, the amount of energy and confidence on display was simply amazing. It was a gathering for more than 250 women of different backgrounds and cultures.

Each one of us met new people and heard encouraging stories. Many of us challenged ourselves and enjoyed a new experience. It was something that many of us felt incapable of doing but with dedication and focus, we triumphed.

Learning experience

The planners of Dubai triathlon for women were brilliant young Emirati women, including Lamia Khan, Director of the Dubai Ladies Club.

The participants came from all over the world.

There was Trace, who is a patient coach from South Africa; Jane, an announcer from the UK, who had all the positive comments one can imagine. It was a learning experience.

It is amazing how women sometimes just need a few encouraging words and a chance to show how we can rise to the challenge.

Surely the competition will inspire plenty of Emirati and Arab women triathletes. The event will pave the way towards honing the skills of some of the young women from the UAE and Arab countries and allow them to dream big. (Most winners were experienced athletes from western countries, where sports are an essential part of daily life).

Who knows one of them could be another Nawal Al Moutawakel, the first Arab woman athlete (from Morocco) to win a gold medal in Olympics [1984]? Or a Hassiba Boulmerka, the first Algerian woman to win a gold in Olympics [1992].

Sometimes, women do not need a change in laws to advance. In many cases, laws do not discriminate. The problem is with the implementation. Sports, as we all know, is like music; both have a universal appeal.

During the triathlon when Emirati, Arab, eastern and western women met, they encouraged each other.

Working silently

The participation of women of different ages is an inspiration in itself. Many wore their headscarves, and weren’t too worried cycling or running on Dubai streets. A lot of contestants wanted to challenge themselves and be part of the experience. Many were interested enough to start practising for the next one.

An army of volunteers worked silently for the success of the event. Lamia Khan was one of them. The event was her brainchild. Another key player was Moaza Al Merri, member of the Board of Dubai Sports Council, and president of women’s sport committee.

Dubai women’s triathlon, the first in the Middle East, will go a long way in cementing the emirate’s position as a place that offers new opportunities for Arab women.

A recent report by the World Economic Forum warned that the gender gap worldwide is widening due to the slow progress towards better equality for women. It estimated that the Middle East and North Africa would take 157 years to close the gap, while western European countries could close the gap in 61 years.

The report focused on equality in a number of areas such as education, health and women’s political participation.

The gap could be considerably reduced by more such initiatives to bring women in the public sphere together.