The remarkable progress of Emirati women

“The driving force behind putting qualified Emirati women in positions of responsibility is an elderly Sheikha who had no formal education in the modern sense. Picture is of a monument at the Dubai Expo 2020.  

In the national capital’s diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri, a stiff competition has been under way not only to be politically most correct, but also to be ‘cool.’ In the golden jubilee year of its founding, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has done exceptionally well among the diplomatic missions in New Delhi in this notional contest.

On the occasion of this 50th anniversary, the UAE Ambassador to India, Dr. Ahmed Al Banna, revealed last week that 50% of his embassy staff is now women. Not just that. Women comprise 30% of UAE ambassadors worldwide. Thirty per cent of members of the country’s Federal National Council, its part-elected, part-nominated Parliament, are women. And 30% of the UAE Cabinet too is women.


Driving force

On January 1, 2022, when the UAE begins its two-year, elected term as a member of the United Nations Security Council, its seat will be taken by a woman Permanent Representative, Lana Nusseibeh. The Managing Director of Expo 2020 Dubai, the biggest business and entertainment event in the world since the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, is Reem Al Hashimy, the country’s woman Minister of State for International Cooperation.

In Scandinavia, no one would take a second look at such facts or figures. They would be taken for granted. But the UAE is a young country, it is also an Islamic country, which turned out its first woman graduate only four decades ago. A remarkable aspect of such advancement by women in the Trucial States, which were clusters of nomadic Bedouin hamlets when they coalesced into a state in 1971, is that the driving force behind putting qualified Emirati women in positions of responsibility is an elderly Sheikha who had no formal education in the modern sense.

Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak is known as “Mother of the Nation.” As India’s relations with the UAE were catapulted into one of its most important foreign policy priorities in the last five years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, impressed by women’s advancement in the UAE, invited Sheikha Fatima for a state visit although she holds no official government post in the conventional sense. Unfortunately, the pandemic interfered with those plans.

In Chanakyapuri, diplomatic missions have been doing a lot for gender equality. Canada recently put an Indian girl in its High Commissioner’s shoes for a day. Other embassies or high commissions have been funding programmes or offering training for women and girls on occasions like the International Day of the Girl Child. But there are only a few missions like the UAE, which can boast that half their staff is women.

Turning point

A visit by Pope Francis in 2019 was a turning point for the UAE. It was the first ever visit by any Pope to the Arabian peninsula. About a million Catholics live and work in the UAE. Next in number to Filipino expatriates, Indians account for the bulk of them. In Abu Dhabi, Pope Francis met Sheikh Ahmed Al Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Cairo’s Al Azhar Mosque, the fountainhead of theological learning for Sunni Muslims. Together, they signed “A Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.”

The document inspired the construction of an Abrahamic Family House, which will have a Muslim mosque, a Jewish synagogue and a Christian church within a single complex on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island. The House is due to welcome worshippers of all three faiths next year. There will be no temple in the complex because Hinduism is not an Abrahamic religion, native to West Asia. Elsewhere in Abu Dhabi, though, the foundation stone of a Hindu temple was laid in Mr. Modi’s presence during his visit to the UAE in 2018. There were murmurs of reservation in the run-up to that ceremony about the publicity, official patronage and the high profile accorded to the construction of a non-Abrahamic place of worship in the federal capital. The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who is the driving force behind resurgent relations with India, is said to have countered those reservations with the rationale that allowing a Hindu temple strengthened the UAE’s claim that it is the most tolerant nation in the entire Arabian peninsula. Soon thereafter, the country’s leadership declared that 2019 would be observed as the “Year of Tolerance” with the aim of making the UAE the “the global capital for tolerance, co-existence and cooperation.”

It has become de rigueur nowadays to recall that India’s links with the Trucial States go back more than 4,000 years. Between extolling the distant past and praising the new strides in India-UAE relations, precious nuggets in high-level engagements, which serve as milestones in preserving the very special bond between the two peoples are apt to be forgotten.

Gift of langra mangoes

For instance, India’s “mango diplomacy,” which hits headlines periodically, owes its beginning to a visit to New Delhi by the UAE’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, in 1975. At the state banquet hosted by then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, the dessert was made up of varieties of mangoes. The UAE’s first President became openly curious about one item in the cluster of mangoes. He was told by the Rashtrapati Bhavan chef that it was the langra strain of the fruit. Sheikh Zayed asked for a second helping. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi did not miss this. Six years later, on her visit to Abu Dhabi, she took several cartons of langra mangoes as a gift to Sheikh Zayed.

When A.P.J. Abdul Kalam became the President of India in 2002, he travelled to the UAE on his first foreign visit. In a speech at the Abu Dhabi Men’s College, he spoke about tele-education, which later became his favourite initiative. The response to that speech helped concretise what has become one of Africa’s most successful humanitarian missions: the Pan African E-Network which has saved lives and spread vocational instruction. It is an Indian mission which deserves the Nobel Peace Prize someday. As the UAE celebrates its golden jubilee, India’s relations with this Gulf state now encompass virtually every sphere.

K.P. Nayar is a journalist, who has written about the United Arab Emirates since 1978, when he and seven others launched Dubai’s first newspaper, the Khaleej Times

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 10:32:02 AM |

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