Dubai: Ahead of International Women’s Day (March 8), inspirational stories of women in the UAE have come to the fore to shine a light on their resilience in overcoming challenges and the hopes they raise for the community through their selfless acts.
Australian-Lebanese mother-of-two Lama Andari is a warrior. But for this mother, it is her four-year-old son, Samy - who is being treated for cancer - who is the true hero in her life.
Lama, who lost her first husband to cancer, said the disease has taken a lot away from her. “My son Samy is a fighter and I take inspiration from him. I will not let myself drown in misery. If anything, my mission is to raise enough and more awareness about cancer so that cancer is no longer a taboo word – especially among children,” she said.
Andari started a social enterprise, called ‘Abtaluna’, which means our heroes in Arabic. This support group is intended help parents and families with children having cancer. The group comes together to exchange information, vent their feelings and lend emotional support to one another.
Andari said her boys - born from the second husband – inspire her to do more for the society and community. “Cancer is perceived as a death sentence like it is the end of life. But cancer does not have to be the end of life,” she said.
Last year, when her son completed his first year of treatment, Andari started writing the first words of her ‘Super Kids’ book on children’s cancer. “The book is engaging and unique as it is illustrated by a talented 12-year-old girl in Dubai called Malak Jundi.”
Abtaluna connects families whose children are fighting cancer and also raises awareness about paediatric cancer. Abtaluna focuses on providing psychological support for the children, their siblings and parents through partnerships, as well as organising events and workshops.
“My mission is to reach out to schools and tell students about cancer. If there is a student with cancer other children should accept them for who they are. For example during cancer treatment, children lose hair. But it is not one to be mocked. Instead children should support one another, just as adults must support one another,” she said.
Women in workforce
Alisha Moopen, Deputy Managing Director, Aster DM Healthcare, said in a statement for International Women’s Day 2023: “Today’s women are tomorrow’s economic and social powerhouse. If their potential is not recognised and enabled today, any organisation or country in the world will be at the risk of being left behind in the race for progress.”
She added: Women today are aware and actively seek out opportunities beyond the household, they are more focused on pursuing higher education, a career and fulfil their potential alongside their male counterparts. Currently the proportion of women with a college degree is nearly 40 per cent as compared to men which stands at 32 per cent. As Mauro F. Guillen has rightly mentioned in his book 2030, late marriages, limited number of children and longer life-span, are factors which are enabling women to contribute more and for longer to the economy and society. As they live longer, they are more likely to invest on healthcare, lifestyle and education, for themselves and for their families.”
Moopen said: “Considering all the above factors, this year’s International Women’s Day 2023 theme - Embrace Equity - is an important steppingstone to ensure that countries and organisations around the world relook at the ways in which they are leveraging the potential of women, recognise their long-term value and create a level playing field. Proud to say that at Aster, with almost 60 per cent women in our workforce, we are determined to enable this potential for the betterment of the organisation and the society.”
Brazilian expat Leda Fagundes, 41, had just relocated to Dubai when news hit her that she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. She took the news in her stride but her husband Jiri van Scherpenzeel was heart-broken. Leda was then only a mother of a three year old boy, Antoni. Her husband Jiri thought their small happy family would see the end of light. But that was not how Leda felt.
“I knew there was a problem. I had discovered a 6.8 cm tumour in my breast. But instead of drowning in misery, I focused on solving the issue. Post operation, I did all the tests and they all came clear. To my good luck the cancer had not metastated. We as a family stayed together through my chemotherapy and radiation. I wore a smile through all my milestones and celebrated every success. My husband and I would celebrate every good news that came our way.”
The doctors told Leda that she may never conceive again.
“They [doctors] could not freeze my eggs before the operation. I was told that I will not be able to have a child again. I told the doctors I believe something else. I believe that I will have another child.”
Three years ago Leda delivered her miracle baby Enzo.
“He is my miracle child. I believed I would be a mother again and so it happened. Never stop believing in yourself.”
Leda also raised the bar recently by completing the Dubai Marathon 2023. She completed the 42.195km marathon route.
“I sang my way to the finish line. It was Unstoppable by Sia. I saw people around me giving up half way. I asked myself if I was ok. And the answer was unanimous all the time – I was ok I was fine. Towards the finish line, however, I could not help singing.
“Celebrate every small successes of your life. It is important to record your happy moments with family.”
Turkmen expat Dr Keya Bayramova, managing director of People Link HR Consultancy, is another trailblazer contributing to her community. Recently she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Platinum Jubilee Award by House of Commons Canada. The daughter of renowned Turkmen artist Durdy Bayramov, Keya is passionate about the of Central Asian arts and culture.
The award given to her by the House of Commons Canada is a reflection of her passion as she runs and manages two key projects -The Durdy Bayramov Art Foundation and Bayramov Museum in Toronto, Canada.
The mother of three boys Keya has done much in the UAE, helping families and expats who are entering the emirates for the first time. Her ‘Parent Concierge’ business is helping new families integrate seamlessly into the UAE.
Keya who relocated to Dubai more than 25 years ago, said she fell in love with the country. “I believe in the strength of the UAE’s leadership and government. Many leaders promise, in the UAE, our delivers deliver.”
55,000 women join hands
Indian expat Reema Mahajan is the founder of Dubai’s largest Women Only Community Group – ‘Indian Women in Dubai’, also well known as ‘IWD’. Started four years ago the group today has 55,000 members – all women from different walks of life.
“We started out as friends getting to know each other. Today we are a group of 55,000 people. It has been an absolutely enthralling journey.”
Reema, an IIT & IIM graduate with experience in International Management Consulting at Bain & Company, said she decided to follow her passion for working with women. Going by her anthem #womensupportingwomen, Reema has empowered several thousands women in the UAE.
“From problem solving, to supporting creativity, we are there in this together and that is why it is such a huge success.”
Today, the IWD group with over 55,000 Indian women is a social platform to connect with each other. She is a recipient of multiple awards including ‘Inspiring Woman of the Year 2021. “We do not just connect with women but also celebrate their talents as well. Our community supports, encourages, and promotes women from all walks of life to grow and thrive.”
“International Women’s Day is special and will always be special as it is dedicated for us women. When we are supported and encouraged, we can create magic.”