Emirati Women's Day: UAE women shine a spotlight on the country's names to watch

To mark the occasion, we ask well-established women in the UAE to name an Emirati woman they are most impressed by in their field

From left, Nujoom Alghanem, Amna and Hamda Al Qubaisi, and Alaa Edris are among the Emirati women making waves in their respective fields
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Since 2015, the UAE has recognised August 28 as Emirati Women's Day – an occasion to appreciate their efforts, celebrate their work and highlight their achievements.

Women in the UAE continue to take on leading positions, and it's important to applaud those who inspire others every day.

So in keeping with this year's theme – Women: Ambitions & Inspiration for the Next 50 Years – we turn to well-established women in the UAE and ask them to name an Emirati woman they are most impressed by in their field.

Latifa Bin Haider recommends Sarah AlKaabi

One Emirati woman in the mental health industry who inspires me is Sarah AlKaabi. She’s the co-founder of Peer-Minded, an up-and-coming mental health social enterprise that aims to establish a support network for university students in the UAE.

I met Sarah while involved with the Ma’an Social Incubator and was inspired by her story as to why she co-founded the start-up. It was because she understood the importance, and lack of, peer support.

Sarah was a university student, just like me, when I first met her, and I was instantly inspired by her drive to make a difference. Sarah and her team understood that sometimes students don’t need counselling, that there’s a gap where they need to communicate with someone their age, who understands their context and issues, in order to feel heard and validated, and to receive some guidance.

And she saw the flip side when she opened up to others; many wanted to help, but didn’t know how.

The ability to notice and address pain and provide a much-needed solution is what makes entrepreneurs successful. Sarah inspires me because she wants to support the community and is working hard to achieve Peer-Minded’s vision. I believe that is enough to impress and inspire many Emirati women.

Latifa Bin Haider is an award-winning social entrepreneur and co-founder of Mental Health AE, a platform that aims to raise awareness about the importance of mental health and get rid of the stigma associated with it. She is also the founder and chief executive of Baytuki, a platform that enables Emirati women to make micro-investments in property

Tahany Taher recommends Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi

Undoubtedly, women have always been great pioneers of change and success, be it on a global level or simply as homemakers. Likewise, it is no surprise that the UAE is inundated with female role models who propel the nation forward and nurture the women of tomorrow. Personally, I have interacted with many incredible women, but none have inspired me as much as Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi.

Through remarkable determination, passion and pursuit of knowledge, she has secured doctorates from many renowned universities globally in a multitude of subjects and has made immense contributions in her field and to her nation. Consequently, she became the first woman in the UAE to hold a ministerial position.

To me, she is not only an activist, serving as a board member of several international organisations, but also a true visionary, having introduced the Tolerance Charter into the UAE’s business and corporate system.

This has created a significant, lasting impact on a national and global level with respect to growth, progress, youth development, economy and more.

Sheikha Lubna has made me value knowledge and has fuelled my drive to bring about a positive change in the society, enforcing healthy lifestyle choices while also upholding strong principles and work ethics. I feel blessed to be a woman and to live among such extraordinary leaders who have continued to be a symbol of conviction and limitless possibilities for women around the globe.

Tahany Taher is a senior vice president at a multinational bank and founder of Hayawiia, a health store that brings all things vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, low-sugar, low-carb and keto-friendly under one roof. She won the People Management Award in 2020 for promoting diversity and productivity in the leadership category

Asma Al Janahi recommends Amal Murad

As an athlete, inspiring women in the community to transform their lives through movement is something I strive for. In line with that, a woman who inspires me is Amal Murad, a callisthenics and parkour coach, as well as an expert in pregnancy and postnatal athleticism.

Amal is armed with deep knowledge and experience. She has a strong desire to educate everyone in the fitness field, especially women, to unleash their hidden potential. That is also translated through her content, in Arabic and English, on her podcast and social media platforms, which are full of rich and useful information about training, health, recovery and, most importantly, “keeping it real”.

Amal values real-life experiences over the “perfect life”. I love how she educates her followers and clients about keeping the ego away.

Amal quit her corporate job to pursue her passion, which I think is pretty awesome. She took the hard path, not the safe, familiar one, and opened the door for many fellow Emirati women.

She is a role-model athlete, coach and now a mother, too. It takes so much courage to do what she’s done in only a few years; to start something from scratch and to be a trailblazer.

We may have gone down different athletic paths, but we have a similar vision for a better future health-wise.

Asma Al Janahi is an athlete and Asics FrontRunner. She is the first Emirati woman to finish Ironman 70.3 five times and complete three Ironman Middle East races in a single season. She also stood in first place among UAE Nationals at the Abu Dhabi World Triathlon in 2019

Houriya Al Taheri recommends Shahad Budebs

Shahad Budebs is an Emirati athlete that I’ve been impressed by. She is the first female from the UAE to compete at the CrossFit Games so she has been representing us all internationally.

She has also been the fittest Emirati Woman for three consecutive years: 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Houriya Al Taheri is the first female A-licensed Fifa coach in the GCC, head coach for the Women’s National Football Team, and author of Becoming a Legend, published by The Dreamwork Collective

Amna Al Qubaisi recommends Hamda Al Qubaisi

The person I'm most impressed with in the motorsport world would be my little sister, Hamda. She has proved herself and made history by being the first female and first Arab to claim a podium in the prestigious F4 Italian championship.

Seeing her there is setting a point to everyone globally that Arab women are capable of reaching the top. She has paved the way for every Arab woman. I am really proud of her.

Amna Al Qubaisi is the first female Emirati racing driver. She became the first female Arab to participate at the Rotax Max Challenge World Finals at the age of 15. In 2017, she became the first Arab woman to win the UAE RMC Championship and also competed in the 2018 Italian F4 Championship with the championship-winning Prema Powerteam. Amna was a panelist for the What She Said speaker series at W Abu Dhabi - Yas Island on August 25

Reem Bahassan recommends Fafa

Emirati singer-songwriter Fatima Bin Safwan, known as Fafa, is exceptionally bold, and her boldness is breaking boundaries and setting a precedent in the local music industry.

She is extremely passionate about music and has been singing since she was a child. Music has always been her way to express herself and let others into her world.

I first heard the soulful singer recording one of her original songs at The BarCoe Studio in Abu Dhabi. The space, which is a hub for UAE singers, was perfectly in sync with what she wanted to accomplish.

As much as she loves to sing and be an artist, she is also committed to generating awareness about the UAE’s talented singers and the ever-evolving music scene. She has worked alongside BarCoe Studio to promote its campaign Follow Your Dreams UAE, which is aimed at encouraging musicians from the UAE to step up and unlock their artistic aspirations. Her commitment and energy to support the local music scene resonates through her blues vocal style.

Her latest achievements in the industry include reaching more than 2.8 million views on YouTube for her single Anta Al Batal, opening for Bruno Mars and collaborating with brands such as Namshi.

She also believes in honing her craft and growing as an artist and in pursuit of that she is starting her master's in creative media and technology at Berklee NYC.

Fafa shatters the mould of what female Emirati pop artists are expected to be, and keeps encouraging everyone to create their own mould, as she believes being uniquely you is what leaves a lasting impression and makes a long-standing impact.

She is constantly using her voice to inspire and empower women of this generation and the next, hoping that her actions open up doors for future female artists. Her aim is to create a ripple effect of women pushing new boundaries for future generations of females in the music industry.

Fafa is changing expectations, reaching new heights and showcasing to the world the talents of Emirati musicians.

Reem Bahassan is a talent manager and producer at BarCoe Studio in Abu Dhabi

Maya Allison recommends Alaa Edris

The sheer number of Emirati women doing groundbreaking work in the arts today is impressive, by any measure.

One to watch closely is Alaa Edris, originally from Sharjah, now in Abu Dhabi. She emerged on the international stage in 2014, with work touring the US as part of the Past Forward exhibition. She was an early cohort of the Salama Foundation Emerging Artists Fellowship (Seaf), and has been steadily exhibiting work since.

She’s been in most major surveys of the UAE’s rising art scene, starting with 2016’s UAE Unlimited presentation at Maraya Art Centre, which is where I first saw her work in person. But it was 2019, the year before the pandemic, that was a major milestone: with an epic new commission in the Sharjah Biennial, at the same time as massive retrospective solo show in Alserkal at 1X1 Gallery.

I hold profound respect and admiration for the nuance and complexity – and sheer visual delight – I see in her work.

Even more remarkable is that this is not her only job. While most artists have several jobs, very few have this degree of influence in the arts on so many fronts: since 2015, Alaa has also worked full-time as one of the founders of the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery as the head of publications and education.

She motivates and inspires the team – starting with her launch in 2016 of the youth guides that we produce for each exhibition, she personally oversees the selection of each illustrator (always a UAE artist) and the production of the guides and all of our publications.

She also ensures the continued development of Arabic as a language for reading about art – this is a much bigger topic than many realise, the challenge of translating art terms across languages. She plays a crucial role in the development and standardisation of art terms in Arabic for our publications.

I am honoured to consider myself a close colleague. I look forward to seeing what’s next for her art-making career – it's one to watch.

Maya Allison is the executive director of The NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery and chief curator at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Laila Binbrek recommends Nujoom Alghanem

When I think of inspirational Emirati artists, I think of Nujoom Alghanem – an award-winning poet, filmmaker and artist whose journey embodies the growth of the UAE’s cultural landscape. Nujoom has changed the way stories are told through film and poetry because her personal experiences growing up are woven beautifully into her works.

In 2019, Nujoom and I worked closely together to develop her solo exhibition representing the UAE at the Venice Biennale, and my admiration for her approach to storytelling and artistic expression grew exponentially.

The work we presented at the National Pavilion UAE, Passage, was a site-specific two-channel video installation that reflects on the universal experience of displacement, and speaks to Nujoom’s unique perspective on the blend between tradition and modernity in a rapidly transforming society.

Nujoom’s constant self-exploration, whether through her poetry or the female characters in her films, resonates with me as a female cultural leader in the UAE.

Nujoom’s story is a journey of passion and determination, since her early insistence on including herself in art education and discourse while growing up in her grandparents’ house near Dubai Creek. Through her poetry and wonderfully crafted films, Nujoom has become a trailblazing female artist who created space for others to thrive after her.

She has said her greatest influences are female poets from across the region, so often that she has become just as influential herself; her profound stories about identity and language have made a real impact on the UAE’s cultural ecosystem.

Laila Binbrek is the co-ordinating director at the National Pavilion UAE

Sheikha Mariam gives a shout-out to all Emirati female designers

Over the past couple of years, there have been several Emirati women moving into the jewellery space from different fields. Each has her own story. So rather than focusing on one woman, I am proud to say there is something that can be learnt from every woman.

I’m delighted to see a rise in Emirati designers creating a name for themselves and infusing our rich culture and heritage into their beautiful creations. I admire designers who are constantly creating pieces in their signature way – striking a balance and creating your own path are a part of finding yourself, and key to growth and success as a designer.

Being fearless in the face of adversity and ready to take on the next challenge, these are the true testaments of an entrepreneur. By celebrating the achievements and contributions of others, we can all grow closer together in our own unique ways. I have always felt that it’s important to stay true to who you are and celebrate the things in life that define you. Only then can you create something that you are proud to call your own and the world will sit up and take notice.

Sheikha Mariam bint Khalifa bin Saif Al Nahyan is the founder of MKS Jewellery and granddaughter of President Sheikh Khalifa

Sheikha Bodour recommends Dubai Abulhoul

"Emirati women are at the heart of the UAE's cultural development," says Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, founder and chief executive of Kalimat Group and president of the International Publishers Association.

"Traditionally they have always played a central role within our local communities, which means they are often our narrators, our cultural storytellers."

Considering the rapid development of the UAE, Sheikha Bodour says writing and storytelling offer a lens into a past that we could learn and grow from.

"We need to examine our history and our roots so we can evolve," she says. "And we have wonderful female writers who tell our story."

Among those, she says, is Dubai Abulhoul. The young author became the first Emirati to publish an English fantasy novel when she released Galagolia: The Hidden Divination in 2012. She has since published five children's books, which introduce key characters from Emirati folklore to younger generations.

"These are stories which were originally passed down orally, so I am thrilled that they have now been put into written form, to ensure they are not lost nor forgotten and so remain central to our identity as Emiratis," Sheikha Bodour says.

"She absolutely merits her title of ‘Young Arab of the Year’ for her work in culture, literature, and gender equality. She is just one of many superb Emirati women writers, whose contribution to our culture will inevitably encourage younger writers to narrate our journey now and in the future."

Updated: September 13, 2021, 10:40 AM