As we celebrate the sixth Emirati Women's Day, it is evident that the year 2020 has been exceptional.
Some of the many remarkable plans the UAE had intended for this year included the launch of the Mars mission in July, the commissioning of the first nuclear energy plant in the Middle East in Abu Dhabi shortly thereafter, and the inauguration of Expo 2020 Dubai – the largest event staged in our region – to great fanfare in October. However, Covid-19 had a different agenda, forcing us all to work harder, smarter, faster, and more collaboratively than perhaps any other time in recent human history.
Yet, when I consider this year – just past the halfway mark – two notions come to mind. The first is that the pandemic did not prevent us from going to Mars or commissioning the Barakah nuclear power plant. While the Expo has been delayed a year, preparations continue unabated, and the postponement will only ensure that we have even more to offer in October 2021.
The second notion is the significant contributions Emirati women have made to all these national flagship projects.
When I reflect on the Mars mission, I think of Sarah Al Amiri, the Minister of State for Advanced Technology, and her team of proud, young Emirati women rocket scientists leading the mission. When I think of the UAE's calm and measured response to Covid-19, I see Dr Fatima Al Kaabi discussing the UAE's ground-breaking stem cell treatment for the virus. With respect to the Barakah plant, I am proud of the fact that 20 per cent of the engineers, senior reactor operators and other experts are Emirati women – one of the highest percentages in the world for this industry.
Meanwhile, leading the "World's Greatest Show" is Reem Al Hashimy, director general of the Expo and Minister of State for International Co-operation. Ms Reem has continued to demonstrate a woman's natural ability to multi-task in exemplary fashion this year, spearheading not only the Expo but also the UAE's massive global aid response to Covid-19, which to date has delivered 1,292 metric tonnes of medical supplies to 108 countries.
Unquestionably, we have long had positive role models to look up to in the UAE. Both the Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed, and our Mother of the Nation, Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, recognised at a very early stage that stability, peace and prosperity would not be possible in the absence of equal gender opportunities. Sheikha Fatima championed universal education for women in the 1970s, and the results of that foresight are evident today.
I personally witness these results in the world of foreign affairs, where women make up fully half the ranks of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, and 40 per cent of our diplomatic corps. Here, I must underscore the contributions of Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s first female Permanent Representative to the UN, who has served with distinction in the role for seven years; of Hessa Al Otaiba, UAE ambassador to the Netherlands; and of Hafsa Al Olama, UAE ambassador to Germany, among many of our exceptional female diplomats.
We also realise intuitively – and key studies have confirmed – that women make excellent diplomats, particularly in the fields of conflict resolution and peace accords. That is one of the reasons why the UAE seeks to empower women in diplomacy, by supporting UN Women (the UAE was the first country in the region to establish an office for UN Women, for example) and decreeing that, as of next year, the UAE foreign assistance will integrate gender equality and women's empowerment as key metrics.
At the beginning of this year, prior to Covid-19, I wrote that 2020 was shaping up to be a pivotal year for women’s empowerment worldwide. Since then, the pandemic has highlighted the central role played by women and our distinctive skill sets. Globally, women are leading the health policy response and comprise the majority of frontline healthcare workers. This involvement has tipped the political balance more in the favour of women. I am hopeful that the result is a future where the world is more collaborative, more strategic, and more peaceful.
There are a number of global challenges, nonetheless, as diplomacy remains a profession with unique demands on lifestyle and mobility. The Emirates Diplomatic Academy, a regional leader in transforming diplomacy into a more gender-inclusive field, launched the ”Women in Diplomacy Network” last year, a global platform that tracks international diplomatic appointments and offers practical solutions to assist women in excelling in their foreign affairs and public diplomacy careers. On International Women’s Day in March, the Paris-based Women’s Forum for Economy and Society cited the UAE for its region-leading role in gender equality, while at the same time urging the fostering of women’s leadership to spur “a daring new decade of sustainable and inclusive growth in the UAE and in the region".
During the announcement of the theme for this year’s Emirati Women’s Day – ”Preparing for the next 50 years: Women are the support of the nation" – Sheikha Fatima emphasised that the UAE “must consider the rights of women in the decades that lie ahead and ensure they are empowered to make a significant contribution".
I strongly believe that Emirati women will continue to play an increasingly prominent role in the operationalisation, strategy and planning of the UAE’s momentous ”Next 50 Years” projects. I also look forward to seeing more women in top science, technology and medical roles, more female ambassadors, and more women in our key projects such as Mars 2117, the UAE’s Energy Strategy 2050, our National Advanced Sciences Agenda 2031, and the UAE’s Artificial Intelligence Strategy.
So yes, indeed, 2020 has been an extraordinary year, thanks in no small part to all the women who proudly call the UAE home. Happy Emirati Women’s Day everyone.
Hend Al Otaiba is director of strategic communications at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation