Women at one Abu Dhabi centre outnumbered the men on Sunday after the doors opened for Emirati candidates to sign up for the Federal National Council elections.
By 9.45am, eight women and five men had shown up at Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, where candidates from the UAE capital can register their nominations this week.
Some women said the directive from President Sheikh Khalifa that 50 per cent of the council should be female in the coming term had motivated them to show up on Sunday morning, whether or not they stood a chance of winning.
Buthaina Al Qubaisi, 40, was the first candidate to step out of the registration room.
“I was keen on registering early to encourage other women and give them enough time until the end of the week to sign up,” Ms Al Qubaisi said.
“This is my second time to run but in 2015 I was among the last ladies to nominate themselves.
“I want all women who have the opportunity to register to do so. Whether we win or not, it is important to take part in the experience.”
Ms Al Qubaisi, an environmental activist and history writer, said the registration process was easy and smooth, especially now that she had more experience of the electoral process.
Ameena Al Mazrui, who also visited the Abu Dhabi centre on Sunday to register, called for women candidates to “step out of their bubble and present themselves in front of everybody and not just focus on women organisations and gatherings".
Ms Al Mazrui said she decided to nominate herself after she heard that half of the council’s seats would be given to women.
“Previously, women thought twice before running for elections,” she said. “It is a big challenge for Emirati women to nominate themselves.
“Men usually prefer to vote for other men and women are sometimes reluctant to give other women responsibility.”
Ms Al Mazrui, 36, said she was encouraged to register after learning it was guaranteed that women would get an equal presence in the council even if they did not win in the elections.
She said it was difficult for her family to accept that she would be “stepping out in public and appearing across media platforms” to nominate herself.
“My family is not different than any Emirati family, and my husband is like any traditional local man,” Ms Al Mazrui said.
While her spouse had some concerns about public appearances she would make during the elections, she said he decided to be supportive “to an extent”.
“He told me I can do whatever I see suitable, but that he won’t be pushing his friends to vote for me.”
Ms Al Mazrui said she would like to see more social issues raised at the council, especially by female members.
“Because women understand and advocate their issues better than anybody else," she said. "A woman understands the challenges other women go through in everyday life."
Latifa bint Suwaidan was the first to arrive at the Dubai World Trade Centre registration office. She entered at 7.30am, half an hour before registration began.
She came on behalf of her father, prominent criminal lawyer Abdul Moneim bin Suwaidan, who is on holiday in Kiev but trusted his daughter to register him.
“We’ve told him for many years, 'you should go ahead and enter',” said Ms bin Suwaidan, 30, a mother of five.
“We don’t know what his campaign will be yet because he decided to run just a few days ago and then he left.”
She expects family issues, such as housing and divorce, to be central to her father’s campaign.
Applicants can apply for FNC candidacy from until Thursday at centres across the country.
Candidates must be 25 years old before Election Day on October 5 and be a “knowledgeable and literary person of sound reputation", the National Election Committee said. They must also be on the list of 330,000 citizens eligible to vote.
Almost 200 people registered across the UAE on the first day of candidate registration.
The largest turnouts were in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, with 52 and 47 candidates. Dubai had 21 registrations.
The Northern Emirates had 74 candidates, with 28 from Ras Al Khaimah, 26 from Fujairah, 13 from Umm Al Quwain and seven in Ajman.
A third of the 194 nominees were women. Abu Dhabi led for gender parity, with women representing 48 per cent of its nominees, followed by Umm Al Quwain at 46 per cent, Dubai at 43 per cent, Ras Al Khaimah 35 per cent, Sharjah 31 per cent, and Fujairah at 27 per cent. No female candidates registered in Ajman.
In the 2015 elections, 330 candidates competed for 20 seats. One fifth were women and only one of them was elected.
Tariq Lootah, undersecretary of the Ministry of State for FNC Affairs, visited centres in Ajman, Sharjah and Dubai on Sunday.
“Participating in this endeavour is a privilege for every national,” Mr Lootah said.
“We encourage all eligible UAE nationals to nominate themselves as candidates for this important national duty, or to motivate capable candidates to apply, or to come out and vote for their chosen candidate on election day.”
On the first morning, most prospective candidates in Dubai were men.
Shaikha Khalfan, 30, was the first woman in Dubai to put her name forward when she arrived just after 8am.
Ms Khalfan's campaign will focus on private-sector health and education quality, and job satisfaction.
“I’m an employee, I’m a student and I’m a wife, so I know what people are going through,” said Ms Khalfan, who works in planning and development for Emirates airline.
“I’m living between all of this and I can take a clear message to the council.”
She plans to attract support through Instagram and Twitter. If selected, she has a new Twitter account ready to go when the list of approved candidates is announced on September 3.
Equally important to electoral success will be the majlis campaign circuit, where candidates meet prospective voters for discussion in people’s homes.
“A few days ago I heard doubt,” Ms Khalfan said. “People asking, 'What will the candidates do for us? How will the FNC help?'
"But if you can sit with people and talk with them, they understand.”