Every year, Emirati women break barriers and reach heights that provide inspiration for the generation that follows.
In the Armed Forces, a career that is traditionally male-dominated, breaking through those glass ceilings can be a little tougher.
However, women enlisting in the Armed Forces in the Emirates dates to the era of the UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
Several years ago, Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the Mother of the Nation, praised the Emirati women who enlisted in droves despite not being obliged by law to do so.
“It reflects the legendary epic of loyalty to the homeland and the leadership, as well as willingness to take on national responsibility and partnership in the defence of national sovereignty, dignity and national gains,” she said in 2015 when Emirati Women’s Day honoured the role of women in the Armed Forces.
While it can be physically testing as it is mentally, the UAE encourages women to consider the Armed Forces as a career choice.
Here, The National highlights those who have found a rewarding career in the Armed Forces.
Training the recruits
Pilot Lieutenant Fatima Al Darmaki, 30, is one of nine siblings and the only one in her family to follow a career in aviation.
She's also one of a handful of female Emirati pilots in her field. Her excellence in aeronautics means she trains fellow nationals to follow her lead.
“When I graduated from school, I saw an advertisement in the newspaper and I applied to Khalifa bin Zayed Air College,” said Lt Al Darmaki.
“I never imagined that I would grow up to become a pilot and today be training and leading younger Emiratis,” she said.
To get to where is today, Lt Al Darmaki had to overcome many hurdles.
“I think the biggest obstacle is overcoming the fear that is inside you,” she said.
“Everything was difficult in the beginning. The first hurdle was making that jump from a civil servant to a military person then it was studying aviation and then it was flying a plane.”
Lt Al Darmaki said she spent many sleepless nights but it was her family's support and the love for her country that kept her going.
“I was very scared at first but I was also excited — excited to defend my country, excited to fly a jet and to come back home.
“There is a lot of fear at first, no one can deny that. My family were in turmoil, worried about my safety but at the same time very proud of their daughter, but it is only that first mission that is the hardest.
“When you return home and see the pride in your family’s and the leadership’s eyes then it is all worth it. There is nothing greater than defending your country.”
Lt Al Darmaki encouraged more Emirati women to become military pilots.
“The most difficult aspect of being a pilot is multi-tasking. You have to listen, watch and be alert to your surroundings and react in less than a second and that is what I train others to do,” she said.
“There is no room for hesitation or delays because that nanosecond of hesitation could mean the difference between life and death.”
She said the perception that women are too frail to become military pilots is wrong.
“I used to think that women could not fly jets, that they would eventually get married and get pregnant, but I was very wrong and I only found out when I went through it myself. It is hard but we can do and excel in it,” Lt Al Darmaki said.
“The support we receive from the government is tremendous.
“I want women to know that if I could do it then they could, too.”
First Lieutenant Maye, 25, flies a Boeing C17 Globemaster, a large cargo and personnel transport plane that is a mainstay of the militaries all over the world and commonly used for tactical and strategic airlift missions.
First Lt Maye is also a mother of two ― her youngest is eight months old — but always managed to focus on her career.
“Even after I had kids, I never stopped flying. It wasn’t even something that I was willing to consider,” she said.
“I love my job and I love my field. I love that every part of my job is for the country and my country means that it is for my family, my friends and for everyone.
“I do have tremendous support from my family and from work and that has helped me a lot.”
Becoming a pilot was not always part of her plan.
“I initially wanted to be an engineer and then we saw a news article on pilot Major Mariam Al Mansoori and my father asked me to consider it.”
Inspired by Maj Al Mansoori, First Lt Maye later joined the Khalifa bin Zayed Air College.
Flying the transport jet around the world, she gets many questions about her job.
“I am always asked how a girl can fly such a massive plane. Even when army personnel and passengers watch me fly the plane, they are always in shock.”
She says there's an all-too-common misconception that the job is only for men.
“Any woman in the world — if she studies and learns, can do this job like any other man. There is no job that is only for men,” she said.
“On Emirati Women’s Day, my message to women is that they can achieve anything they set their mind to, in any field and any sector, because beginning from our leadership, we have the full support of everyone. So if you can do it, then persevere and never give up.”
Her role model is President Sheikh Mohamed.
“If I could meet him, all I would like to say is 'thank you. Thank you for everything. Thank you for being our leader. Thank you for your support',” she said.
“Everything that we are today and everything that we will be, we owe to him.”
On the ground support
Maj Fatmah Al Marshoodi, 40, is the administrative head of Zayed Military Hospital, one of the best hospitals in the UAE.
The 365-bed tertiary care hospital in Abu Dhabi provides medical services to the families of the UAE Armed Forces.
Maj Al Marshoodi, a medical technologist, is in charge of supervising the hospital’s blood bank.
Blood supply during the pandemic became a cause of concern around the world because of travel restrictions and fear of contracting the virus by visiting blood banks.
Under her management, Zayed Military Hospital was one of the few that did not see a decline in blood supplies.
“I want every woman to persevere and to never give up,” said Maj Al Marshoodi.
“To know that all her dreams will come true — if not today, then the next. I overcame every hurdle even better and stronger.
“My father, God rest his soul, taught us to never give up. Every time we go up the ladder, we will face difficulties but these difficulties will only make us stronger.”
Staff Warrant Officer Ameena Al Marzooqi is head nurse at the critical care unit at Zayed Military Hospital.
“You have to be very strong to withstand the cases that you see at the CCU. We see injuries, amputations, bleeding and many others,” said WO Al Marzooqi, who is the only Emirati in the CCU.
The recruitment of Emirati nurses has always been a challenge in the UAE.
Of the 6,311 nurses in Abu Dhabi’s Seha facilities, 170 are Emiratis — one of whom is male.
But the number of Emiratis joining the profession is gradually on the rise.
However, working at ICU’s and CCU’s is exceptionally difficult and remains to be a challenge in the recruitment of Emiratis.
“We need more Emirati women in this field. I am proud that I was able to remain in this field for 20 years now and would like to see more here,” said WO Al Marzooqi.
“At the end of the day, the pain and suffering is difficult but helping to heal a patient and alleviate their pain, is immensely rewarding and keeps us going.”