Dubai: Ahead of the Emirati Women’s Day on August 28, a group of successful UAE national women came together to share inspiring stories of breaking barriers.
As five Emirati women from different walks of life shed insights on their grit and determination, some revealed stories of shattering glass ceilings while others shared stories of how they chose the road less travelled.
The women spoke at a community panel discussion to mark Emirati Women’s Day by Female Fusion, a community of women entrepreneurs with over 30,000 members.
One of the panelists and Senior Air Traffic Control Officer, Jouhayna Almheiri is the youngest woman and second Emirati woman to complete Air Traffic Control Training at Area Control Centre, Abu Dhabi. While one could think that she chose this career because of its unique nature, Almheiri revealed that it was mainly because of the financial security it offered when she had to support her family that she applied for it. “I did have to take care of myself and my two younger sisters,” she said.
A TEDx motivational speaker and podcaster, Almheiri said she loves sharing her story so that people understand her job profile and get inspired to follow the road less travelled.
Some of the takeaways from Almheiri were — prioritise and organise yourself, delegate work and ask for help when needed.
The half-Tanzanian woman revealed that she used to be bullied for her looks and urged women not to be ashamed of what people tell them to be ashamed about.
“Choose yourself. Embrace your uniqueness and accept yourself for who you are,” she added.
Giving back to community
Tahany Taher is a senior vice president at a multinational bank and co-founder of Hayawiia, a premium destination for gourmet food that promises to provide affordable healthy food.
Taher said she was inspired to give back to the community by offering affordable options for healthy food items that taste good as well. At the same time, she revealed how she is supporting small-scale food manufacturers, especially women, from countries such as Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Thailand. Her firm is funding bulk manufacturing of their products and helping them sell in supermarkets over here.
While Taher is grateful for the immense support from her family, she said for those women who are not as fortunate as her, it is just their personal drive that keeps them going while chasing their dreams. “And for me, it is about leaving a legacy behind for my kids and the need to do something for the community.”
In her message to fellow women, she said: “We will fail … we will make mistakes … but it is fine. Just believe that there is something amazing coming your way and keep going.”
Tala Badri, founder and executive director of Centre for Musical Arts, which has been listed as one of the top 100 SME’s in Dubai and has won many awards, opened up about her struggle to get funding and support when she decided to open the non-profit music school 16 years ago.
Badri had to leave her previous job with a multinational chocolate company after her daughter was diagnosed with autism. “It was the music therapy for my daughter and the change that it brought to her that brought me back to my passion in music,” said Badri who is famous as the first Emirati to graduate with a degree in music. “I am still the only Emirati female to ever have (done it),” she said.
Badri attributed the years of struggle to get financial assistance for her venture to men at banks who wanted a male family member to be a co-signer. She also said that help finally came through when she met women leaders in banks and in the government.
Making a difference
Appreciating the changes in the Emirati society over the years, she revealed that her music school moved into a government facility last week. “We will celebrate our 16th anniversary next week which is very exciting because we have been through so many ups and down,” she said to loud applause from the audience.
Her advice to young women was to “listen to your mother … as mothers always know what is best for their children. Take advice from other women also.”
Asked about her biggest motivation, Badri said: “It is the thought that I am making a difference.”
Fatima Al Qubaisi, first Emirati woman to have graduated from Harvard Law School, works as a legal counsel with a bank. She is also a UAE Futureneer.
However, she also dedicates a lot of her time for defending women’s rights and championing women empowerment.
Al Qubaisi revealed that she had had to help women, who faced harassment at home, to move out or get divorce. She said there were still women and girls who are not allowed to go out without being under the supervision of someone.
“(Such) women follow me through fake profiles and they message me (seeking help). I want to give them a voice. We need to talk about them as well while we celebrate our success … and talk about how the sky is limitless and how the doors are open for Emirati women,” she said.
Recollecting how she had helped one such woman, Al Qubaisi said it was heartening to see the community and government supporting the latter after she opened up about her plight on an online forum, at the behest of Al Qubaisi. In another instance, a social media post by Al Qubaisi gathered support for another woman who was abandoned by her family members.
Being known as rebellious from her childhood, Al Qubaisi said she wanted women to be rebels and do things that others are not doing. “Never settle for small things. Always think bigger,” she said.
Times have changed
Maitha Alawadi, award winning Emirati director and head of Production at New Media Academy, said she had fought misconceptions about Emirati women’s ability to work in the film field. “When I first started out, it was a bit difficult … because the idea of being an Emirati woman director wasn’t seen in a good light at that time.”
Pointing out that people were generally skeptical, she said: “They ask, oh, she is Emirati, will she be able to that? Can she work on the sets? Will she be able to handle heavy equipment, running around?” Alawadi has proved them all wrong. “I remember carrying about 15 equipment once in the UK,” she said.
“Yes, women can do that. Women are powerful. They raise kids, they raise husbands,” she said as the audience burst into laughter.
“If we can handle all of that and still be prepared and be ready in the morning, we can definitely handle everything,” she said to another round of loud applause.
Alawadi said she was super happy that the times have changed and women directors are evolving and they are in the forefront of film industry in the UAE. “But, I do want to see more female DoPs, and editors and sound engineers.”
Committed to portray social and psychological issues and to shed more light into the Emirati culture and Emirati women through her films, Alawadi said she also wanted to showcase that “we are not so different from other women in the world. We share the same struggles, we share the same goals, we share the same restrictions and how we break out of it to be the woman that was here before you today.”
Attended by around 100 women entrepreneurs, the event witnessed several moments of the audience bursting into laughter and tearing up with emotions as the panelists spoke from their hearts and shared ups and downs that took place in their lives.
Jennifer Blandos, international speaker and founder of Female Fusion, enlightened the audience about the history and significance of Emirati Women’s Day and told the audience: “Let’s keep supporting each other because together, we are so much stronger.”
Emirati Women’s Day
When: August 28
Who founded it?
The Mother of the Nation, Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the General Women’s Union, President of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, and Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation, founded Emirati Women's Day in 2015.
What is the theme this year?
“Inspiring Reality. Sustainable Future”.