Abu Dhabi: The 67th US Secretary of State, the first Emirati figure skater, and a Nobel Peace Prize winner — these were just three among a host of illustrious women who gathered at the Forbes 30/50 Summit in the capital today to celebrate International Women’s Day today.
Hosted by culture sector regulator, the Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), the event delved into what drives women to become achievers, and how they have used their resources to tackle obstacles.
Former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, headlined the summit, where she moderated a session and presented International Women’s Day awards. UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al Hashimy, spoke at the event, which also saw the presence of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousufzai, actress and chief creative officer of The Honest Company Jessica Alba, Emmy Award-winning actress and writer Catherine O’ Hara, American ballet dancer Misty Copeland, Emirati Formula racing driver Amna Al Qubaisi, and Emirati figure skater Zahra Lari. Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska also made virtual appearances, first as part of a panel moderated by Clinton, and then to receive the International Women’s Day Torch of Freedom award in the evening.
Speakers discussed their experiences as women, and urged one another to mentor more women towards success.
Next generation focus
“I can’t afford not to be optimistic [about the world] because I have children, which means I have to believe that we can do things in a better way, and we have to have the confidence and the ambition to change the course forward. Otherwise, we will be victims, and I cannot be a victim to my kids,” Al Hashimy said during a panel discussion about giving back to society.
Her inspiring words were followed by a session that featured Emirati sporting pioneers, and figure skater Lari echoed her sentiments to leave behind a better world for the next generation. Lari, who started figure skating as a 12-year-old, is a five-time Emirati national champion, and is the first woman from both the UAE and the Middle East to compete internationally.
“My plans [to get to the Olympics] have changed: I am a mother now, so my main focus is the next generation. I couldn’t make it to the Olympics, but I always say that there is going to be a UAE team soon — not me, but from the next generation, and I am really focusing on helping the next generation of skaters get sponsorships and ice time, and on winning competitions. I have lived my dream, now I want to help others,” she said.
Women in sport
To that end, Lari is now chief executive officer at the Emirates Skating Club, which ensures high-level coaching for figure skating hopefuls, and also president of the UAE Winter Sports Federation’s figure skating committee.
“I’ve had to overcome a number of challenges along the way, and the biggest one was educating people about figure skating, and to show them that it was okay for women to participate in sports and compete internationally in a professional sport,” Lari said.
She also discussed the difficulty in finding sponsorships for women in sport, a concern shared by Al Qubaisi.
“When the pandemic came, I lost a lot of sponsors, and all my racing experience. I actually had to sit back for a year, and wonder if it was all over [for me]. But then I decided to work hard to gain sponsors, and I took to social media to share my experiences and try and go viral. It worked, … and the feeling of ‘being back’ when a company agreed to sponsor me was phenomenal,” she said.
The four-day summit, which is continuing until Friday, highlights the need for mentorship, collaboration, and innovation to empower women.
Clinton participated in a panel discussion with Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska, American World No 1 tennis player Billie Jean King, and American journalist and activist, Gloria Steinem, and urged women to support other women.
“I think that there is still a lot that we can learn about the opportunities that women have in every single walk of life, every single kind of setting to not only speak up for themselves, but also other women. I want to underscore that because, too often, it is a lonely time when you are the only woman, or you are a woman who is in a position of having to speak up or try to make a point in a not-very friendly atmosphere,” she said.
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Tips for women
“[I want to share a few] quick things:
“Just accept the fact that you have to be better prepared than everybody, no matter what your situation is. That just goes with the territory still. So just be willing to do whatever it takes, to feel confident that you know whatever it is you are talking about, and you have a very clear idea that you want to communicate.
“Secondly, practise communicating. Communication is a skill like any other. I have had so many women and girls say to me that they are scared to death of public speaking, and they rankl it among the worst things that could every happen to them … You have to work on that. Practise on your phone, practise in front of a trusted friend, practise in front of your cat. Whatever it takes, feel like you’re going to gain confidence as you speak.
“Look for allies. As often as you can, find others who share that view you have, whatever it might be …
“Finally, just know that every time you stand up for yourself, you stand for literally tens of thousands, maybe millions, of people who do not have the voice or the access to the opportunity that you do.”
Billie Jean King
“I’d encourage more women to get into sports, because it teaches us to trust our bodies. You know how many women are taught not to trust our bodies? When you learn how to trust your body, you know you are strong. It also teaches you to show and be there.
“[Also] face your fears, and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
“Value laughter more. It is the only emotion that cannot be compelled. You can cause someone to be afraid; you can even cause somebody to think that they’re in love if they are kept dependent for long enough, but you cannot compel anybody to laugh … I just want us to value laughter as a proof of freedom and of joy.”
“Equality is a normal thing. It’s not something we should be fighting for or having to tell the world about. All women should understand this, and men too.”
Forbes 30/50 Summit International Women’s Day Awards
Lifetime Achievement Award: Gloria Steinem, American journalist and activist
Changemaker Award: Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize winner
Know Your Value Award: Billie Jean King, American tennis player and one-time World No 1
Torch of Freedom Award: Olena Zelenska, First Lady of Ukraine
The awards were handed out at a gala dinner at the Louvre Abu Dhabi by Hillary Clinton, 67th US Secretary of State.