Five Women who Should Have Received the UAE Gender Balance Index Awards

On 27th January, the United Arab Emirates appeared to take a progressive step towards gender equality. They held an awards evening for the Gender Balance Index 2018, praising individuals for their contribution to making the UAE a more equal society. The awards included: ‘Best Personality for Supporting Gender Balance’, ‘Best Federal Entity for Supporting Gender Balance’, and the ‘Best Initiative for Supporting Gender Balance’. The UAE packaged the whole event as a feminist success for a region that in 2016 had the ‘lowest rate of female participation in the workforce at just under 22%’. Yet, ironically, every single award from the event went to men.


Rather than demonstrating great initiatives for Gender Equality, the event has been shrouded in bad press reinforcing the fact that much more is needed to make gender equality a reality in the UAE. So while the government may have failed to praise women for their roles in improving gender equality in the region, I decided to have my own Gender Equality Awards that shine a light on the significant achievements of Emirati women.

Best Personality for Smashing the Glass Ceiling of Emirati Politics

Sheikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi  


Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi is the first woman to hold a ministerial post in the United Arab Emirates and is currently the Minister of State for Tolerance. Her main mission is ‘to promote tolerance and instill its core principles as a fundamental value in UAE community and the globe’. In 2017, she was featured in the Forbes Power Women 2017 list for her role in creating a platform of acceptance and diversity in the UAE. She not only advocates for Women’s rights but also supports the de-stigmatisation of the most marginalised groups in the UAE. She sits on the board of the Dubai Autism Center and is an avid volunteer with the society ‘Friends of Cancer Patients’. Not only is she breaking down barriers for women in politics, she is also on a mission to ensure that no person is discriminated against, putting the most marginalised groups up on a pedestal.

Best Personality for Giving Women Access to Male Dominated Environments

Mariam Al Mansouri


When it comes to combat roles, women in the UAE have traditionally been denied access to fight for their country. For decades women were banned from training in the Air Force or becoming pilots. It had always been considered a male environment. That is until Mariam al-Mansouri came along and became one of the first woman to join the UAE Air Force Academy, graduating in 2007. She didn’t stop there. Al Mansouri went on to be the first female fighter pilot in the UAE. In 2015, she was listed as one of the 100 most powerful Arab women by Arabian Business Magazine. Mariam Al Mansouri has become ‘a symbol of defiance against extremism and proactivity in the fight against ISIL’, showing women everywhere that you can break down barriers and thrive in a male-dominated industry.


Best Personality for Uplifting Other Women

Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed Al Maktoum

Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed Al Maktoum is the President of Dubai Women Establishment and shines the limelight on other women’s achievements in the UAE. In 2003, she founded the Dubai Ladies Club to facilitate informal business meetings and corporate events for women. She helps other women develop their talents, gain financial independence through business ventures, and prove to the world that women in the UAE have agency to create their own business opportunities.


Best Personality for Tirelessly Fighting for Women’s Rights

Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak

Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, also known as the ‘Mother of the UAE’ has dedicated over forty years to combating gender inequality and giving women a voice in the UAE. She is considered ‘a driving force for the full participation of women and the disabled in the economic and civic life of the United Arab Emirates’, and a strong devotee of social justice. She spearheaded the women’s movement in the UAE, and in 1973 established the nation’s first organisation dedicated to promoting the equality and advancement of women. She has been a strong advocate for girls’ education and continues to head up the United Arab Emirates’ Women Federation, which she founded in 1975. If there’s anyone who deserves to be recognised for their contributions to taking the UAE one step closer to gender equality, it’s her!

Best Personality for Disabled Women’s Advocacy

Thuraya Al Zaabi


After suffering a stroke at age 29, Thuraya Al Zaabi was left paralysed on her left side. But she didn’t let this restrict her. Al Zaabi turned her disability into an empowering message for women in the UAE and became the first Emirati woman to compete in the Paralympic Games after the nation lifted the ban on women athletes. It wasn’t a smooth sailing journey, it took years of rehabilitation and determination, but resulted in gold medals in javelin and shot put in the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. She’s become an advocate for disabled women’s participation in sports, and since her olympic appearance, 11 more women with disabilities have reached competitive levels of sport in the UAE.

While the UAE Gender Balance Index Awards may have omitted women from the narrative, it’s our job to make sure that their achievements aren’t overlooked. Women in the United Arab Emirates have been spearheading movements, establishing powerhouse businesses and advocating for marginalised Emirati communities for decades. They aren’t passive benefactors of Gender equality initiatives led by men, as portrayed in the images of the Awards. They are the leaders, the creators, and the agents of change.

Article by VERVE Operative & Blogger Chanju Mwanza

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