Meet the women blazing a trail for science in the Gulf

Introducing some of the women contributing to research on International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2022

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, November 11, 2014:      Dr Habiba Al Safar  Assistant Professor, Biomedical Engineering in her lab at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi on November 11, 2014. Christopher Pike / The National

Reporter: Anam Rizvi
Section: News
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As the world celebrates International Day of Women and Girls in Science on Friday, here are just a few of the pioneering women making discoveries and opening up science to the masses in the Gulf.

Dr Sarah Al Amiri

Dr Sarah Al Amiri has spearheaded the UAE's mission to Mars, worked on the UAE's first satellite, DubaiSat-1 and chaired the UAE Council of Scientists. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Minister of State for Advanced Sciences and chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency Dr I Sarah Al Amiri has overseen a number of the UAE's biggest achievements.

Ms Al Amiri has spearheaded the UAE's mission to Mars, worked on the country's first satellite — DubaiSat-1 — and chaired the UAE Council of Scientists.

A graduate from the American University of Sharjah in computer engineering, she was snapped up by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in 2009.

Her most recent focus is on how space exploration will fit into the UAE's economy in future, including fostering a private sector for space technologies.

“Today, we're talking about a space sector that has an indirect impact to the economy. In five years, we want to see a space sector that has both an indirect impact on the economy, society, and also a direct impact on the economy,” she told The National in April 2021.

Dr Habiba Al Safar

Dr Habiba Al Safar has made crucial breakthroughs in controlling diabetes and championed the role of women in medicine and disease prevention. Christopher Pike / The National

Dr Habiba Al Safar is director of the Khalifa University Centre for Biotechnology, whose work focuses on identifying genomic structures of individuals of Arab descent to try to find genes which predispose people to disease.

During a pre-medical bachelor's, she fell in love with genetics and went on to study in the UK and Australia, before returning to the UAE to build up the nation's molecular biology capabilities.

She told Friday Magazine in 2019 that her passion for science was born as a child, when she asked endless questions of her parents, finding answers in books.

Ms Al Safar is passionate about passing on her knowledge and empowering young scientists, running mentorship programmes and conducting research. She has made crucial breakthroughs in controlling diabetes.

“I have always been fascinated by science,” she told the British Council. “The human body is a remarkable machine. Yet, while I always knew it would be a tough career I wanted to contribute to the UAE and realised that there were very few geneticists — so this is where I specialised.”

In 2014, she was one of a handful of Arab women to win the International L'Oreal-Unesco Fellowship for Women in Science. She has also been awarded at home in the UAE, receiving the UAE First Honour Medal from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, for her pioneering research.

Dr Hend Alqaderi

Kuwaiti Dr Hend Alqaderi specialises in dentistry research. She studied in Egypt, Ireland and the US before working in Kuwait on public health research at the Dasman Diabetes Institute. She is also a part of the Kuwait Healthy Life Study team — joint research between DDI and the Forsyth Institute, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US.

Her recent research includes looking for biomarkers in saliva to indicate future risk of inflammatory diseases in children and research into Covid-19.

As well as her academic work, Dr Alqaderi has volunteered to train community health workers in Lebanese refugee camps in preventive dental health care for children.

This week Dr Alqaderi won one of 14 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Young Talents awards, for "her research on the use of oral fluids as a non-invasive diagnostic tool for early diagnosis and disease management of Covid-19 and other inflammatory diseases."

Dr Majda Abu Rass

Environmental scientist Dr Majda Abu Rass was the first woman in Saudi Arabia to specialise in research into treating oil-contaminated soil.

Born in Makkah, she studied has a master's from the department of microbiology in King Abdulaziz University, which she followed with another master's and a PhD in biotechnology from the University of Surrey in the UK.

Her work, which includes playing a role in setting up the Supreme Authority for the Environment, National Recycling Centre and the Saudi Clean Cities initiative, has been celebrated at home and abroad.

Ms Abu Rass has also done work for Nasa.

“As a leading global oil producer, Saudi Arabia is furthering its ambitions to combat climate change,” she told a in a virtual discussion on the environment. in April 2021. “We look forward to a brighter and greener future.”

Rumaitha Al Busaidi

Omani marine scientist Rumaitha Al Busaidi is the definition of a multi-hyphenated career woman. Scientist, activist, athlete and explorer are just some of the titles she holds — showing women can achieve great heights in the Gulf.

She also serves as manager of business innovation at Fisheries Development Oman, a post she took up after completing a master's in aquaculture management at Sultan Qaboos University.

A passionate advocate for women and girls, she founded WomeX, a platform teaching negotiation skills to Arab women to foster entrepreneurship in the region.

“I want to show my fellow Arab women that anything is possible, that being a woman should not be the end to your dreams, that you are so much more than what you are conditioned to be,” she told a TED talk released in May 2021.

Ms Al Busaidi believes women and girls are key to the battle against climate change.

Dr Reem Al Mealla

Bahrain's first female marine and conservation biologist Dr Reem Al Mealla conducts fieldwork in the seas around the kingdom. She is a strong voice for protecting the environment and acting to stop climate change and is a member of the Women and Gender Constituency, a group of organisations ensuring women's views are heard in the climate debate.

Dr Al Mealla told a blog at the University of Essex in the UK that she first hit upon the idea of becoming a marine biologist when watching the film Free Willy in English class.

Since then she has gained a master's from Imperial College London and a PhD from the University of Essex, where she undertook her bachelor's degree.

Since then, she has been at the forefront of Bahrain's marine research movement, even creating the country's first online platform to share documents related to Bahrain's ecology, contacts for different ministries and groups and other useful information. She said in 2017 that Bahrain was facing a generation gap in certain scientific fields.

“Most scientists on the island are pioneers in their field of science in Bahrain, however, there aren’t many successors to carry on the work,” Dr Al Mealla said.

“This needs to change and young Bahrainis should be given an opportunity to explore the option of taking up scientific research as a career.”

Updated: February 11, 2022, 7:11 PM