On this Emirati Women’s Day, a day that resonates deeply with the heritage and strides of women in the UAE, I am filled with pride and a sense of responsibility. As the first Arab woman president in the history of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), I carry with me the collective aspirations and successes of my sisters in the UAE. These women are not merely contributing to the field of conservation and climate change; they are integral pillars across all sectors of society. Whether as scientists, creatives, leaders, or mothers, they have also exemplified that none of these roles are mutually exclusive.
As we celebrate today, which also marks the anniversary of the founding of the General Women’s Union in 1975, let us reflect on how far we have come and how much further we aim to go. In the spirit of this day, this article serves as a tribute to Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Mother of the Nation. She has worked tirelessly since the establishment of our nation to ensure that women’s inclusion is not merely a trend but is enshrined as a value in our journey of development, progress and innovation – particularly as we approach the milestone event of Cop28.
Today, more than half of the UAE’s university degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are awarded to women. Four of our primary environmental agencies and organisations are led by women. Women make up half of the Federal National Council, our country’s advisory legislature, and one third of the Cabinet. Additionally, according to the World Economic Forum, the UAE ranks in the top three globally for wage equity.
I am grateful to the IUCN members for entrusting me with this significant responsibility as the first Arab woman president in its history. I am equally thankful for the opportunities provided to me at home, which have enabled me to find my footing and make my voice heard. At the upcoming Cop28 in the UAE, I am proud that many women will represent our country, including negotiators and organisers. I am also humbled that two women will represent the presidency: myself, as the UN Climate Change High Level Champion for Cop28, and Shamma Al Mazrui, Minister of Community Development, as our Youth Climate Champion.
In my role, I aim to unite diverse groups such as businesses, cities, civil society, indigenous peoples and philanthropic organisations to help achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change. My priorities ahead of Cop28 are twofold. First, I focus on the critical relationship between our natural environment and climate change. Second, I strive to make our efforts more inclusive, with an emphasis on empowering women and girls as leaders in climate action. This is not just a moral imperative but a practical one: research shows that increasing women’s representation in national parliaments leads to the adoption of more stringent climate change policies. Moreover, companies with more female board directors are 21 per cent more likely to have set emission reduction targets.
To this end, my objectives are clear: I aim to ensure that women and girls are given the space to drive action at the summit, platforming the myriad ways that gender intersects with climate change across finance, fragility and the just energy transition, among many other themes. As we work to eliminate carbon emissions, it’s vital that women are not merely participants but are active leaders and contributors in shaping new environmental policies. I will also support and shine a light on climate initiatives led by women and encourage governments and financial institutions to fund these projects, especially in regions most affected by climate change. By keeping these focus areas in mind, we can work towards a future where the fight against climate change is inclusive and beneficial to everyone, regardless of gender.
While climate change is a universal threat around the world, women are the first to experience the effects of climate change and biodiversity loss, especially in indigenous and rural communities. In the developing world, women are nearly solely responsible for providing water and fuel for their families, accounting for 45 to 80 per cent of food production, depending on the region. They are also among those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as heat waves, floods, storms and droughts, as well as diseases such as cholera, dengue and malaria. As climate change exacerbates social, political and economic tensions, women become more vulnerable to gender-based violence, human trafficking and child marriage. Yet they are frequently excluded from decision-making processes that directly impact them. This dynamic must change.
It’s of paramount importance to me – and to leaders worldwide – to provide a blueprint for the young people of West Asia, North Africa and beyond. These individuals aspire to realise their dreams and foster a brighter future. I once heard someone say: diversity means having a seat at the table; inclusion means having a voice; and belonging means being heard. We need more women’s voices to be heard; they must feel that they belong at every level of the decision-making process on issues that directly affect them.