Launched in 2015 by HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Emirati Women’s Day takes place annually on August 28 to coincide with the founding of the General Women’s Union in 1975. This year’s theme, “Women: Ambitions & Inspiration for Next 50 Years,” is in line with 2021 marking 50 years since the UAE was formed and President HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan naming it the “Year of the 50th.”
The UAE has triumphantly become one of the leading countries in the MENA to close its gender equality gap by harboring tremendous girl power and opening thriving avenues for feminist issues. In WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, the UAE leaped 48 ranks in a year – successfully topping Arab countries and ranking 72nd globally. Members of the Federal National Council (FNC) comprise 50% of women while nine female ministers are currently serving in the Cabinet. With women’s literacy rate of 95.8%, the country’s leadership has pivotally focused on equality and their rights, consequently breaking age-old boundaries and reaching milestone after milestone.
Here are the eight inspiring Emirati women who made a mark in various fields in the country.
HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Mother of the Nation
Known as the Mother of Sheikhs and the Mother of the Nation, Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak is the country’s pioneering advocate for female rights and has spent decades in her work towards the development and empowerment of women regionally and internationally. Just a few of her current positions include Founder and Chairwoman of the General Women’s Union, Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation, and President of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood. Her sponsorship of the Red Crescent Society for charitable aid and humanitarian projects has exceeded millions of dirhams. The Mother of the Nation’s resolute campaigning and numerous establishments have led to landmark breakthroughs in female literacy, representation in government, sports, and culture, successfully raising Arab women’s status globally. Her Highness’ leading role in this field has made her the recipient of various prestigious awards and titles.
Sarah Al-Amiri, UAE’s Minister of Advanced Sciences
On July 20, 2020, the UAE successfully launched the Al-Amal (translated Hope) probe to Mars, which reached the red planet on February 9, 2021. At the forefront of the ambitious UAE Mars Mission was Sarah Al-Amiri, the Science Lead and Deputy Project Manager at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre. She is the Chairperson of the Emirates Scientists Council and the Minister of State for Advanced Technology. In 2017, Al-Amiri became the first Emirati to speak at an international TED stage event where she talked about the first Arab initiative of reaching Mars: “The project Hope is run by a team that is under 35, a team made up of 34% women… An entire nation is putting its hope in a team of youth and presenting a message to the region.”
Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, curator and creative
Hoor Al Qasimi is credited with enriching Sharjah’s art scene and paving the way for it to be internationally recognized. Director of the Sharjah Biennial and Founder of the Sharjah Art Foundation, she took over as creative director of Qasimi menswear after the passing of her late brother Sheikh Khalid Al Qasimi. An avant-garde curator, Al Qasimi passionately expanded the Foundation to include significant exhibitions and shows, residencies in visual arts, music, film, commissions for emerging talents, and a wide range of educational programs for all ages. In an interview with Vogue Arabia, she confessed that she is a “workaholic” and said: “Having a job is important, as independence is everything.”
Zahra Lari, figure skater
In 2019, young Zahra Lari proudly waved the UAE’s flag at the FISU Winter Games in Russia as the first internationally competing Emirati figure-skater. Five-time champion at the national level, in 2012, Lari broke multiple glass ceilings for Muslim girls at the European Cup in Italy when she became the first-ever woman to figure-skate wearing a headscarf in front of an international panel of judges. Her points were deducted due to this, and she subsequently campaigned to the International Skating Union until officials were instructed not to consider the headscarf as a violation. According to FISU, Lari said: “That’s the main message I’m trying to send to girls, don’t let anything stop you from doing what you love, especially because you’re covered.”
HE Reem Al Hashimi, Minister of State for International Cooperation
In November 2013, as the Managing Director of Dubai’s World Expo 2020 bid, HE Reem Al Hashimi led the UAE to witness a historic achievement: Dubai won the right to hold the World Expo 2020. Al Hashimi is the UAE’s Minister of State for International Cooperation, and since 2007, the Chairperson of Dubai Cares – an international philanthropic organization that supports quality education in developing countries. Her Excellency staunchly supports the empowerment of women and children in the country.
Sheikha Mozah Al Maktoum, pilot
Captain Sheikha Mozah Al Maktoum gave literal wings to her dreams and conquered many firsts: The first Dubai royal female pilot, UAE’s first female commercial pilot, and the first woman to be appointed First Lieutenant Pilot of the Dubai Police Air Wing. In 2016, she completed the ATPL (A) First Officer Programme from the CAE Oxford Aviation Academy. Al Maktoum also wishes to inspire fellow Emirati women to pursue their dreams in the aviation sector and as a result, established the Women in Aviation Association. In an interview with Vogue Arabia, the Emirati royal said, “I have been blessed to play my part in a country that has been at the forefront of women’s empowerment in the region.”
HH Sheikha Mariam bint Khalifa bin Saif al Nahyan, jewelry designer
Her Highness Sheikha Mariam bint Khalifa al Nahyan is the founder and designer of MKS Jewellery. Launched in 2013, the royal specifically designed MKS Jewellery to empower women to freely express themselves by sharing their stories and believes that “women are the backbone and the moral compass of their society”. As the granddaughter of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, and the Emir of Abu Dhabi, Her Highness stands as an ambassador for all Emirati women. Through her patronage, she supports numerous causes and charities, including initiatives for the UAE-Jordan run Syrian Refugee Camp Mrajeeb Al Fhood.
Nayla Al Khaja, filmmaker
The first female Emirati film director and producer, Nayla Al Khaja’s prestigious contributions have vastly expanded the UAE film industry. In 2018, Al Khaja reached a historical milestone at the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival when she became the first Emirati to have her project, Animal, accepted by the Producers Network. She has written and directed many short films, documentaries, and movies, including Unveiling Dubai, The Neighbour, and The Shadow. As CEO of Nayla Al Khaja Films and founder of The Scene Club (Dubai’s first film club), Al Khaja supports newfound talent and continuously advocates for women’s role in cinema.
Nora Al Matrooshi, astronaut
On April 10, 2021, Nora Al Matrooshi became the first female Emirati and Arab astronaut, which set her on the path to becoming the 66th woman worldwide to go to space. Chosen from over 4,000 candidates to be trained for future space exploration missions, Al Matrooshi has worked for Abu Dhabi’s National Petroleum Construction Company, which builds oil and gas platforms for companies. Passionate about encouraging the youth within the MENA region, she went on to represent the UAE at the UN International Youth Conference in both 2018 and 2019.