UAE Portrait of a Nation: First Emirati woman to join Harvard law school

Fatima Al Qubaisi knows that success is relative and she has added lustre to her reputation as groundbreaker by becoming the first Emirati woman at Harvard law school.

FUJAIRAH // Fatima Al Qubaisi has gone from being the first Emirati female student to graduate with a law degree from Paris-Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi to the first Emirati woman to join Harvard law school in the US.

It’s probably no surprise because she comes from a family of pioneers known for their achievements.

“I belong to a family that likes to break records. My aunt, Amal Al Qubaisi, is one of my role models, as she is the first female president of the Federal National Council,” says Ms Al Qubaisi, 25.

“My uncle, Khaled Al Qubaisi, is a car racer, and his daughter is one of the first Emirati women to be a car racer, so the standards are pretty high and we should live up to them.”

Ms Al Qubaisi was encouraged to apply for Harvard’s master’s degree programme by her family and employer. “I found out about the programme through my employer as I work for Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (Adia). My boss encouraged me to apply and he wrote me a recommendation letter and, applied in October last year,” she says.

Ms Al Qubaisi works as an associate in-house lawyer at Adia.

“I even had a visitor at work who was a Harvard professor who told me about the programme and how they were in desperate need of more Arab women and that inspired me to at least try and apply, so I submitted an application to Harvard and other universities in the States,” she says.

“The application process was very difficult and took almost three months to be accomplished. I had my own doubts and thought that they wouldn’t accept me but it was worth all the time and effort.”

Ms Al Qubaisi was accepted by Harvard in March, coincidentally on the day of her wedding to Yousuf Saif.

“It was two good things in one day,” she says.

“I went into law in the beginning because I wanted to defend women’s rights and, even though I became a corporate lawyer, I still see myself doing a lot of things that empower women.

“When I was still in college I taught women English and French and other courses that would help them get into college.” She joined Harvard, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in August.

“It’s a one-year programme, made up of 182 people from 72 countries, so it’s the most international place I have ever been in,” she says.

“When I first started I knew that I would be meeting very intelligent people. That was my expectation. And they are not only intelligent, they have the ambition and passion and that’s what makes Harvard so special.

“You can have a great conversation in a five-minute coffee break and talk about issues that they have in their countries, which you can relate to.

“It’s a great resource to have this type of network.

“My advice to students is to go ahead and apply without hesitation or doubt. The experience is worth the investment of going and enriching one’s experience, it is something I believe that all young Emiratis should do.”