Emirati Women's Day: meet the female stars raising the UAE to new heights

We talk to some of the country's brightest talents about their contributions to the nation, and what the occasion means to them

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As we head into Emirati Women's Day, The National would like to take a moment to celebrate the inspirational women who form the heart and spine of this great nation.

From the up-and-coming artists and poets to the architects and entrepreneurs, their countless contributions and sacrifices have helped to shape the UAE as it is today.

Any nation that cares for its own people, and those all across the world, as much as the UAE does owes a great debt to its women.

Today, we sit down with some of the UAE's most adventurous spirits, devoted as much to public service as family life, while breaking down barriers and building the ideas of tomorrow.

We find out what Emirati Women's Day means to them.

Alia Al Banna, co-founder, RollDXB

Alia Al Banna has a very clear idea of what it means to be an Emirati woman.

“Being an Emirati, to me, means being brave and having the ability to stand out despite all odds,” she tells The National.

A versatile and multifaceted entrepreneur, the mother of four co-founded the indoor roller-skating park, RollDXB in April last year.

Before then, Al Banna opened an abaya store and designed tailored jewellery for invitation-only clients. The business information technology graduate also led and championed Enoc's Emiratisation programme.

She did all of this while pursuing a passion for competitive sports, including show jumping, fencing, motocross and shooting.

But it was her love for roller-skating that led Al Banna to launch RollDXB, together with her sister Reem.

Although the UAE's skating community has been quietly growing in recent years, now, thanks to RollDXB, it has a permanent home, complete with competitions, dance-offs, themed nights and nostalgia-inducing tunnels.

“We are a society that doesn’t like to boast about our accomplishments, so I am happy Emirati women are celebrated each year," Al Banna says.

“It makes us feel appreciated and offers a platform for our achievements.

"Emirati women are not only important pillars to our society, but also beyond borders, to the world at large.

"As we defy stereotypes, we prove we are more than capable in contributing to a better tomorrow.”

Noora Al Awar, architect and entrepreneur

As the co-founder and creative director of Studio D04, a multidisciplinary firm that marries modern architecture and design with the cultural sensibilities of the UAE, Noora Al Awar enjoys a challenge.

While studying architecture at the American University of Sharjah, she met Fatima Al Zaabi, and together they founded their design house in 2014.

Today it is part of Area Beige, a creative platform straddling design, artefacts and perfume.

“It's really great to see other women and what they are doing, and to show the younger generation what they can do," Al Awar tells The National.

"The previous generation paved the way for us, so it's great to have this day to remind everyone of what women are doing and showcase their abilities.”

Reflecting on her success in a male-dominated industry, Al Awar says she was fortunate to grow up surrounded by women who showed her she could achieve anything she set her mind to.

“It was my aunt who has always been out there, career-minded, and because my mother and my aunt have always followed their dreams, I never thought it wasn’t possible," she says.

"I always knew whatever I dreamt, I could do. I always had the mindset that I would create something.”

Ultimately, she says the real power of Emirati Women's Day comes with support for those who grew up in a different environment to hers.

“Not everyone has had the same opportunities as us, and not everyone has the mindset that women can do whatever they want," Al Awar says.

"So setting aside one day to celebrate it makes it a norm of sorts."

Aysha Al Suwaidi, designer

After graduating from the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation this year, it didn't take long for Aysha Al Suwaidi to find her feet.

Her thesis project MiFloof — a tool designed to help children regulate their emotions — and its spin-off, Floof and Friends — an educational flash-card-based game — have already received commercial backing.

“Going into Didi four years ago, my thinking was that the focus of design is mainly aesthetics and how something looks," Al Suwaidi says.

"I learnt along the way that the research, the process and the function are more important. Good design solves problems and that is what I intend to do going forward.

“I am at my happiest and most at peace when I create, and want to pursue design to chase my interests and find user-friendly solutions.”

Al Suwaidi was born in Dubai, and says she has always had an inclination for creative problem-solving, something for which she credits her innovative father.

“I wouldn’t be successful or the person I am today without the endless love and support I have received from my parents, siblings, close friends and faculty members, and Emirati Women’s Day is a celebration of that support and success," she says.

“I look forward to it every year because I love learning about the accomplishments of my peers and the challenges women have been able to overcome.

"Having a dedicated day makes me feel empowered as well as honoured to share this beautiful occasion with Emirati female leaders, while encouraging the coming generation to always chase their dreams.”

Sara Ahli, visual artist

Emirati visual artist Sara Ahli's work has a delicate balance between tension and playfulness.

Having initially studied fashion design at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, Ahli turned to sculpture after she was chosen for the Sheikha Salama Emerging Artist Fellowship.

“I naturally gravitated towards sculpting because it felt somewhat similar to fashion,” she told The National.

“When it comes to fashion, you’re working with and around the physical body, constructing clothing to be worn on the body.

"With my artwork, it’s about creating from a place of the body first, where it then becomes the subject matter.”

Ahli’s work plays with ideas of balancing opposites: scale and space, hard and soft, weight and shape.

Her sculptures recreate recognisable objects from our everyday world — balloons, bricks, rocks and tools — and reframes them in relation to their function and physicality.

“I like the concept of harmonic relationship between opposites," Ahli says.

She says Emirati Women's Day is about paying tribute to the progresss women have made in the UAE and their aspirations for a prosperous future.

"It’s a day to celebrate the empowerment, leadership and success of Emirati women," Ahli says.

Shahd Thani, writer and poet

Writer and poet Shahd Thani recently published her first anthology, Fields of Poetry, through Sail publishing and is now working on a novel set in the UAE.

Thani has always loved words. Her father worked for Al Bayan newspaper and once featured her in his column.

When Thani saw her own name in print at the age of 8, she knew that writing poetry and stories was her calling.

“My writing is a reaffirmation of truth when self-doubt prevails,” she says. “I write about the losses in life. I grieve the departed, the losses and the failures. I celebrate my heritage and the wins.”

Her little sisters were her "first audience", listening along as she read out original bedtime stories.

“At school, I was always encouraged to perform poetry and at the University of Sharjah, the English literature department had a reading club where we would perform our poetry,” Thani says.

Apart from her father, who remains her writing mentor, she says the rest of her family are a great source of inspiration for storytelling.

"My mother always read stories to us growing up, from nursery rhymes to stories of the Prophet Mohammed,” Thani says.

“My aunts would also make up stories to tell us. so in so many ways I was saturated with stories.”

Emirati Women's Day, she says, is about celebrating the women who persevere, and come together as a community, to "keep the storms at bay".

"The Emirati woman has always had a hand in the nation’s past, present and future," Thani says.

Khawla Al Balooshi, interior designer

Khawla Al Balooshi has always been inspired by nature, culture and the nuances of Emirati architecture.

These interests naturally converge through her work as an interior designer, in a unique blend of contemporary and traditional design, crafted with eco-friendly materials.

Al Balooshi says art is a “way to stay healthy” and avoid “negative energy”.

After graduating from the College of Architecture, Art and Design at Ajman University, she joined Tashkeel’s Tanween programme, working with local materials such as rock, seashells and plants.

Al Balooshi also worked on a project in Julphar Pharmaceutical Industries laboratories, to develop materials using heat and chemicals.

“Since I was a design student I always believed that it’s a responsibility for every Emirati to show the culture of this country through their own fields,” she says.

Apart from finding new uses for waste wood, Al Balooshi experimented with ways to make the UAE’s natural woods, ghaf, seder and semer, more resistant to termites, insects and illness.

Ghaf was of particular interest to Al Balooshi because it is “the UAE’s national tree”.

“It is a real survivor in the high temperatures and harsh desert conditions," she says.

"Ghaf is one of the trees that endures long dry seasons, generously providing shelter and shade for humans and wild animals.”

She regards Emirati Women’s Day as a time to celebrate the UAE’s many female designers and artists, and the support they receive from the country’s leadership.

“It’s a moment of pride to be part of a crew that dedicates itself to contributing to the art scene in a country that appreciates human efforts," Al Balooshi says.

“Emirati Woman’s Day motivates women to continue giving without stopping, always step forward and be creative.

"I would like to thank Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Mother of the Nation, for being an example of inspirational Emirati women.”

With contributions by Maan Jalal, Hareth Al Bustani, Panna Munyal, Razmig Bedirian and Sarah Maisey.

Updated: August 27, 2022, 8:05 AM