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Celebrities, influencers and government officials celebrated the inauguration of the Women's pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai on Wednesday night in Al Wasl Plaza.
The event was attended by Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Co-operation and director general of Expo 2020 Dubai.
The pavilion, the first one in more than a century dedicated to women at an expo, celebrates the significant — and often underrepresented — contributions of women in helping society advance.
Under the theme “When women thrive, humanity thrives”, the exhibits inside the centrally-located pavilion highlight the challenges women still face, particularly post-pandemic.
The World Economic Forum estimates that Covid-19 has added another 30 years to the time it will take to close the gender gap, meaning gender parity will not be reached for an estimated 136 years.
The pavilion seeks to identify and address existing barriers and biases against women to speed up progress.
Ms Al Hashimy said that in the last 50 years, the UAE has emerged as “a proof point for the principle that when women thrive, all of society thrives".
“Alongside the non-negotiable values of tolerance, inclusivity and opportunity for all, women’s equality and empowerment is not a choice, but a necessity,” Ms Al Hashimy added.
The UAE has introduced several measures to move the country towards gender equality, including a 2018 law ensuring women are paid an equal wage to their male colleagues.
As a consequence of this progress, the UAE ranks 18th globally and first in the region for female empowerment, according to the UN’s Gender Inequality Index.
A star-studded event
The Expo event in celebration of the pavilion included speeches by Ms Al Hashimy and Mona Al Marri, director general of the Government of Dubai Media Office, as well as performances by Sudanese-American slam poet Emi Mahmoud and ballet dancers Diana Vishneva and Denis Savin.
The physical inauguration in Dubai was mirrored by an online campaign starring Hollywood celebrities, politicians and senior officials, including actor Jake Gyllenhaal, Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki and Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank.
Ms Lagarde described the Women's pavilion, which was organised in collaboration with Cartier, as an “excellent and timely” reminder of the women who have led the charge for positive change in our societies.
“We simply cannot afford to leave talented women behind when we tackle the great challenges that await us, such as climate change, such as inequality,” said Ms Lagarde, who was France's first female Finance Minister and the first female managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
“It was Abraham Lincoln who said ‘the best way to predict your future is to create it’. Let us rise to that challenge together.”
Three female artists and one man were commissioned to create content for the pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, and to act as ambassadors.
French architect Laura Gonzalez designed the micro pattern for the facade, while French actress and screenwriter Mélanie Laurent directed the introduction movie.
“When I got the opportunity to start working on this film I thought 'I want to search in the world for women, young women who have initiated some kind of change'," said Ms Laurent.
“So this film is about them — these women who are trying to change the world.”
French-born Tunisian multidisciplinary artist El Seed created a design for the lower part of the facade, and Lebanese actress and director Nadine Labaki created an immersive exhibition showcasing stories of women from all over the world, as they navigate thought their experiences.
“I'm inspired by women, they are everywhere in my work, by their strength, by their beauty also and by their generosity,” said Ms Labaki.
“I wanted to do something with a lot of hope, I just wanted it to be a testimony of women, to pay tribute to all those women; famous, not famous, poor, rich, mother, not mothers, I had no rules.
“If at the end of the exhibition you feel love, and loved as a women, and humble as a man, then I've succeeded in one thing.”