What does it mean to be an Emirati woman today?

To honour Emirati Women's Day, we asked artist Fatma Al Mulla and ex-criminologist-turned-professor Omaira Farooq Al Olama to interview each other about challenges, changes, perceptions and patriotism...
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What does it mean to be an Emirati woman today?

Omaira Farooq Al Olama

Omaira: You were born here and I was born in the US, so tell me what the biggest differences as an Emirati woman in Dubai have been as the city’s changed?

Fatma: I’d say it was the openness of the people. Because of the evolution of the city, women here are more driven, daring, positive and confident now. We’ve changed to believe that women are mothers, wives, career girls, business advisors, achievers and dreamers.

O: Sometimes I wish I’d grown up here so I could’ve seen the changes myself, but I’ve still always had a strong sense of culture and patriotism.

F: But you see it from a different perspective. How have you seen the changes impact opportunities for women?

O: I’m so proud of how everything has evolved. There are so many more opportunities available for women today - even more so for young women. When I moved here in 2001, one of the most difficult things for me to understand was that there was still some time to go before the divide between men and women would decrease. I had to work twice as hard to prove myself.

F: That’s why I think we do need an Emirati Women’s Day. It reminds the entire nation that it’s not just a man’s world! We’ve been so fortunate to have a visionary founding father like His Late Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan who was truly ahead of his time. He encouraged women to be educated, to drive, work, take risks, be active in the community… we owe it to him to have a day to commemorate women everywhere – not just in the UAE.

Fatma Al Mulla

O: Lots of us have achieved great things that have helped build our nation. There is so much depth to Emirati women – and women in this country in general – so more of them should be celebrated. My grandmother in the early ‘60s used to take women to the doctor and translate for them as she was fluent in English. That idea really shaped me as a person – not just in terms of life in the UAE but life in general.

F: My family raised me in an interesting way, too. They broke boundaries and achieved so much, both working for the government for 25 years. I was always raised to think I was equal to men – my father told me there was nothing a boy could do that I couldn’t.

O: I’m so happy to see many expats finally realising that Emirati women are just as capable, if not more so, than their counterparts, and that they’re involving and getting to know them much more. Emirati women are adventurous, educated and hard-working. It might take some time to break their shell but they are very loyal and kind.

F: I’ve noticed foreign visitors who come to Dubai for the first time always find a way to ask me if I’m somewhat oppressed. When I explain that I’m a business owner and I have the exact same freedom they have, they’re a bit taken aback by it, which I find strange! But I think perceptions are changing. Women in the Gulf have pushed boundaries and want to see the development of their country. With persistence and tenacity, we can drive this forward even more.

Photos: Supplied