Thirty-four years ago, the UAE's Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, met a small group of young women dressed in brown uniforms and neckerchiefs.
They were part of the 11th Arab Regional Conference for Girl Guides being held in Abu Dhabi at the Cultural Foundation, which marked the beginning of the UAE’s membership in the World Association for Girl Guides and Scouts.
About 10 million girls are members of the organisation today.
At the 23rd Arab Regional Conference held in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, Algeria participated as a member for the first time.
The Girl Guides association uses outreach programmes so that girls and young women can develop connections with local communities and cultural groups.
Through fun and challenging activities, the organisation empowers girls to find their voice, inspiring them to discover the best in themselves and to make a positive difference in their community.
Importance of voluntary work
The Emirates Girl Guides Association was established in 1981 and continues to be supported by Sheikha Fatima, Mother of the Nation.
In a speech read on her behalf, Sheikha Fatima said: “The Arab Girl Guides Association is one of the important pillars for developing a promising generation of young women guides, enhancing their roles and adopting programmes and initiatives that are concerned with building generations of girl guides who will contribute to the development and growth of the scouting activity.”
She said the movement was important for refining talents and creating awareness about the importance of guidance and voluntary work to serve communities and nations.
“The era of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, may God rest his soul, was full of achievements for the daughter of the Emirates in all fields, including the field of scouting and guiding, and we are proud of the remarkable presence and progress that this movement has achieved in the country.”
In 1988, the UAE had only a few schools and Emiratis were mostly sent abroad for further education.
But Sheikha Fatima, who is also head of the Girl Scouts initiative, supported the project with a firm belief that it would lead to the progress and development of women in the UAE.
Encouraged by Sheikh Zayed, who travelled as far as Ras Al Khaimah to attend their events along with rulers from other Emirates, Emiratis began sending their daughters to join the group in the hopes it would equip them with the skills they would need in the future.
“We were elated,” said Shaikha Al Jaberi, member of the Emirates Girl Guides Committee.
“Whenever there was any event or activity, they would immediately send their daughters. They wanted their daughters to be independent and to have strong personalities.”
Young girls learnt how to tie different kinds of knots, how to start fires without matches and other skills that endowed them with a sense of independence and self-sufficiency.
It was the very beginning of the UAE women’s movement and was the first step on a path that led to the country's first female astronaut, minister, fighter pilot and others.
The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts is the largest movement dedicated to girls and young women in the world, representing girls and young women from 152 countries.
For more than 100 years, Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting has transformed the lives of girls and young women worldwide, supporting and empowering them to achieve their potential and become responsible citizens of the world.