Voice of a Nation

13 Dec 2011
By Ahlanlive.com

As the UAE turned 40 in December 2011, we speak to seven Emirati women about what makes their homeland rock

Basma Al Fahim, 26, Founder, Eventra Events

This country has done so much for Emiratis and has made some outstanding achievements. It makes us proud by succeeding to put the UAE on the map, yet not forgetting about the locals each step of the way – it truly cares for its citizens and about building itself up to what it is today. Through my work, I’ve seen a real growth in terms of peoples’ creativity here. Event planning is something that comes hand in hand with modern life, and the community here have embraced that now. I meet people from all over the world at events, and I’ve had the joy of seeing Western and Eastern culture complement each other. Even when I travel overseas, people know what the UAE is and what we’re about. We’re a tourism hub, and I think we helped start that trend in the GCC by inspiring the countries around us to do the same. The UAE is quite diverse when it comes to the population; we see all walks of life here and that multiculturalism is really special. No matter what you love or where you’re from, everyone can find their niche and fit in. If expats wanted to learn more about Emirati culture, I’d tell them to approach Emiratis. I don’t know why people sometimes think we’re unapproachable – we’re not! They just need to talk to us and get to know us. With a culture that prides itself so much on hospitality, they’ll probably be pleasantly surprised at how warm we really are!

Amina Taher, 27, Manager of Communications at Mubadala
The quality of the people we have in the UAE makes me proud to be Emirati. Few nations have people this connected with our leaders and with each other, who all believe in the same vision and have such a strong sense of community, not to mention do everything with such passion. It’s a young country with a young population; being young is part of our DNA, and that means things naturally happen at a fast pace here. Every time I travel, I see changes when I come back whether it’s a new initiative or a building popping up. Our increased access to knowledge has been a key part of this. Now we’re committed to achieving and maintaining international standards while preserving national identity, and we’ve also created a lot of home grown products and brands that I’m personally very proud of. If the UAE were a colour, it would be orange because it’s so vibrant, warm and positive-thinking. I like to think of it as one big tribe with many families, and it’s magical how it gives people hope, and maintains its identity while allowing for change. The increased integration of Emiratis and expats that we’ve been moving towards is wonderful, as is the fact that females and the younger generation are now encouraged to study in co-education, get great degrees, and even work abroad. I would really like to see a greater stress on education in the coming years. If we have the right infrastructure, from the curriculum to the teachers to the buildings, it will allow people access to a better life. They are the enablers and disablers, in a way. It would be great to see more expats learn the local language as well. I’d also like to see people improving their lifestyle. We have extremely high levels of diabetes and obesity here, and if we want to address this, learning to take care of our minds and bodies is essential.

Sumayyah Al Suwaidi, 31, Digital artist, curator, entrepreneur and designer of Seen
My pride on being Emirati stems from everything: the culture, the people, the location, the weather. I love the sun and the desert, and the fact that we have the sea and the mountains here as well - I’m just in love with everything about the UAE, and I’m very proud to be part of it. I consider my country to be very unique because it has really established a name for itself within the past 40 years when it normally would take 400 years to achieve what we have. Personally, one of the most signifi cant moments in the past 10 years was in 1998 when I majored in graphic design. I loved that people were fi nally starting to recognise the creative concept. Families started becoming more open minded and accepting about their daughters getting into media rather than just becoming doctors and engineers – back then, it wasn’t easy. For that opportunity to be opened up to us was something amazing and it allowed me to get to where I am today. I hope to expand my business in the next 10 years and take advantage of the opportunities I have, and I’d like to see the country keep on growing the way it has been. The UAE is committed to its people, to being one of the top countries in the world, and following the plan without forgetting the community. As Emiratis, this really means a lot to us. Abu Dhabi, to me, is homey, hospitable and bold. If an expat wanted to immerse themself into Emirati culture, I’d suggest they attend more events dedicated to it such as the Liwa Date Festival, the Al Dhafra Festival or the Falconry Festival. Emiratis are present at these events and it’s a great way to meet and get to know others. If an Emirati invites you to something, accept and attend so you get a taste of the real culture! Never be afraid to approach an Emirati – we have a very welcoming nature.

Shamsa Al Habtoor, 27, President, Merle Norman Cosmetics
I’m proud to be part of a country that has developed so quickly in the past 40 years. When I travel overseas, people are curious and impressed when they hear I’m from the UAE and that always brings a smile to my face. The UAE is a metropolis that is unique and inviting. I love that it’s so multicultural. Growing up here, I went to an international school where I learned so much about different countries through the people I met. When I meet foreigners or travel, it’s also wonderful being able to teach people from all over the world about our country, and to break their stereotypes as well. One of the reasons why I brought Merle Norman Cosmetics to the UAE is because I love that it’s a brand focused on natural beauty, it was started by a woman in 1931, and that a woman brought it here. It was a man’s world back then, and not a lot of women worked; that’s quite inspirational. We offer services and skincare as well as makeup, since we wanted to offer something for everyone, which is something I think fits well with the UAE since we have so many different types of people living here. Not only do we work differently as we understand what women want, but I also hope we might motivate other women to start their own businesses. We’d like to help women realise that no matter what kind of background you come from, if you have drive you can have a chance to succeed. There’s already been a great positive change in the past five years, and it’s amazing how it’s now normal for a woman to be working in such a high-responsibility role. I love how it’s become an accepted norm for females to aspire towards their own projects and I really hope to see more of it in the future.

Nayla Al Khaja, 33, Film director
Being able to live in a country where there are hundreds of nationalities living together in peace is quite an achievement. The UAE is a phenomenon to me – what it has achieved in terms of infrastructure and as a business hub, that’s what makes it stand out. It’s warm and welcoming and has worked very hard to put its name on the map. It’s chaotic, it’s wonderful and it’s home. I’m very honoured to be the first female Emirati film director. I feel like I have a lot of responsibility to not only focus on my career but also to encourage both men and women and the younger generation as a whole to become interested in film. It’s an extraordinary career line, and I know I’ve done part of my job when I get fan mail from teenagers. That, to me, is the world – no award or ceremony has ever made me feel as good as when I receive genuine letters from young girls and UAE nationals telling me how they see me as their role model. It’s amazing. During the next 10 years, I’d really like to see the gap between the quality of government and private schools decrease. The UAE has achieved a lot, but I would really like to see an increased focus on education in government schools on every level. Moving towards a solution-based type of learning rather than a memorisation-based style would enable people to develop more skills to have a better life. Education is not a quick investment, but it creates a huge impact for the future.

Hend Al Mutawa, 23, Founder of Nabrman
Being from a country that has grown to become so well-known makes me proud. It’s such a hub of everything, not just tourism but business as well. It’s a truly special place, and I think one of the main reasons for that is our leaders - His Highness Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum and His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. These are the people who started the UAE as we know it, and it’s because of them that we are here today. They are our role models for standing together with other Arabs, expats, and everyone else that has come together in this country. That’s what makes us unique – the fact that we had and have great men as our leaders. They helped us make our stamp on history as a great, united country. I especially love the beach areas of Jumeirah – there, you can see old and new contrasting yet existing side by side, as people fish in a traditional old style in the sea with a backdrop of modern buildings behind them. When I first started designing abayas, everyone wore the same normal plain ones – even me – and it was a bit boring. I realised that we’re really into fashion here and we love new things so why not make the abaya more individual? Dubai is a growing place, and I hope it’ll be a hub for fashion as well someday. I thought since my city and country were growing, I should be growing with it. I wanted to design abayas that would maintain their true purpose, but at the same time reflect our modernity and personality. When Kim Kardashian visited recently, she and her mother both wore Nabrman abayas! It was amazing, and we hope that will help change the stereotype of abayas to people in the West. It’s a beautiful part of our culture, and if Kim can wear one, anyone can! To me, Dubai is inspiring and enchanting, and I love how cosmopolitan it is.