Emirati women fight ignorance

Entrenched western misperceptions persist despite Emirati women’s many achievements

Whose responsibility should it be to challenge the entrenched misperception of Muslim women harboured by many of those in the West? According to Mona Al Marri, the chairwoman of the Dubai Women Establishment and the director general of Dubai Government Media Office, Muslim women have a duty to change outsiders’ skewed attitudes.

As The National reported yesterday, at a recent women's rights conference in France she was surprised to hear ill-informed views from many western participants about the role of women in UAE society. Her response was to conclude that Emirati women – and indeed UAE society as a whole – needs to do better at communicating the reality that women here have a far higher degree of empowerment.

On the one hand, her decision to engage positively through social and conventional media to counter this kind of misinformation and prejudice is commendable. But on the other, one has to ask what more does the UAE need to do to demonstrate that the popular image of oppressed Muslim women is just plain wrong?

The most powerful woman in Arab government, as nominated by Forbes magazine, is cabinet minister Sheikha Lubna Al ­Qasimi, while the most powerful private businesswoman is another Emirati, Raja Easa Al Gurg. More than 20 others are in Forbes' top 200. Major Mariam Al Mansouri led our mission to bomb ISIL positions in Iraq. This list of high-flying women goes on and on.

The heart of the problem lies in doggedly fixed and overly simplistic views of the Arab world held by many in the West. This is just an extension of orientalism, a western trend where the Arab world is seen as a single amorphous entity with no distinction drawn between the lawlessness of Yemen, the restrictions of Saudi Arabia and places like the UAE, where women are judged primarily on their ability.

While Ms Al Marri keeps chipping away at this prejudice, Emirati women will continue to demonstrate their participation at all levels of our society.