History Project: Women are at the heart of the story of the UAE

Without the tireless contributions and progress of its women, the UAE wouldn't be half a country - it would be no country at all, writes The National's editor in chief.
Sheikh Zayed visits a Girl Scout conference. Courtesy Women's Museum
Sheikh Zayed visits a Girl Scout conference. Courtesy Women's Museum
Women have always been central to life in the UAE, indeed long before the founding of the federation which we celebrate this week, and back to the days of what were once known as the Trucial States.

It is said that the women of Ras Al Khaimah took up arms with their menfolk against a British invasion force early in the 19th century. When the males of the community would depart for the long and dangerous journey to the pearling banks for the Ghaus Al Kabor, the great dive, it was the women who held the community together, caring for their children and supporting each other for months at a time.

It might also be said that behind many a great sheikh, is a great sheikha. In fact, more properly, the role of women in power has always been crucial. It was the mother of the late Sheikh Zayed, Sheikha Salama bint Butti Al Qubaisi, who is said to have ensured political stability in Abu Dhabi for much of the past century by impressing on her sons the importance of sibling loyalty.

Today we have the example of Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Al Ketbi, the wife of Sheikh Zayed, and known to all as the "Mother of the Nation". It was Sheikha Fatima who was the driving force behind the creation of the Abu Dhabi Women's Association and later the General Women's Union, organisations which are a voice for women in the UAE and in whose creation she had the full support of her husband.

An account of the formation of both organisations can be found on the facing page of this year's History Project, which celebrates and examines the role of women. This is the fifth edition of our History Project and marks the 43rd National Day.

In the past, we have looked at high politics, with the creation of the UAE and the GCC, or great projects like the building of the oil industry and the Burj Al Arab. This year's offering could be said to be the most ambitious, for we mark the story of half the country's population.

Many of the articles and photographs that follow underscore the resilience of women, often in times of great hardship, without the benefits of modern health care or education, but always borne with fortitude and good humour.

Today, women remain central to life at every level. When national service for men was introduced this year, so many women wanted to serve their country that a new women's military college had to be created.

Women represent the UAE at so many levels, it is impossible to list even a fraction of them here: as diplomats, ministers, entrepreneurs, artists, administrators, teachers and healers. The world was astounded when it discovered Major Mariam Al Mansouri in the cockpit of a UAE F-16 Fighting Falcon in the fight against the tyranny of ISIL. Those of us who know the women of the UAE were less surprised.

It has always been the role of The National to support the progress of women and to highlight the issues that concern them. For without women, the UAE would not be half a country; it would be no country at all.

Mohammed Al Otaiba is The National's Editor-in-Chief

Published: December 1, 2014 04:00 AM

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