Daughters of the Desert: Emirati Women

We've all had the honour of being introduced to Major Mariam Al Mansouri, the UAE's first female F-16 fighter pilot. From California to Calcutta, people have expressed their delight and excitement as her story wraps around the hearts and minds of all those who believe that this generation is capable of great achievements and advancements.

Major Mariam is from the UAE (United Arab Emirates), which in my opinion is one of the greatest countries on earth. This place, where my family and I have called "home" has provided us with opportunities, stability, security and a strong sense of belonging for the past 30 years.

I lived in the Emirates for a number of years as a teenager, graduated from high school and then went to the U.S. and later to the UK in pursuit of higher education and building my career as an assistant professor of psychology at a private university in London. However, all along I knew that I would return to this priceless pearl to contribute to it's development and give back to a community that has cradled millions of expats in it's wings during the last 40 years.

I feel grateful for the people I've met and befriended -- expats as well as Emiratis. Since moving back to the Emirates in 2010, I've also been fortunate to work with charming Emirati professionals who are amongst the most devoted and committed nationals filled with enthusiasm and an insatiable appetite to follow their leaders on the trail towards triumph in so many sectors and scenes.

But this article isn't about my work or the achievements of this young country. Now that you've met Major Mariam Al Mansouri, it would be a great shame if I didn't introduce you to the other daughters of our desert. You see, Major Mariam Al Mansouri has entered new frontier, shattered long existing stereotypes and enlightened the world about all that is prodigious and possible. To people everywhere, she is the symbol of victory for all the men and women who fought long and hard to pave the runaway for her spiritual flight.

But she's not alone. There are countless numbers of "Mariam's" throughout the UAE, contributing as brilliantly in their chosen field while being incredibly considerate hosts to a population which is primarily made up of expatriates.

So who are these women and what are they like? Here's a glimpse at some of the most noteworthy traits of the Emirati women whom I have met, befriended and worked with:

- They are fiercely nationalistic, culturally patriotic and incredibly proud of their land, religion, culture and heritage.

- They are very generous and hospitable. They treat their guests like royalty and are big hearted both in terms of time they invest in friendships as well as feasts and gifts.

- They are collective in ideology as well as in practice, often putting the needs and expectations of their group ahead of their own.

- They balance their multiple identities as women, daughters, sisters, cousins, wives and mothers seamlessly, putting effort, time and energy in nurturing and preserving relationships.

- They are hip, fashionable and ever so stylish. Many of them follow the latest trends and sport incredibly beautiful outfits, shoes and handbags, inline with their traditional clothing.

- They are good at languages since they have lived amongst a diverse population or studied abroad, often switching between a few sentences in Arabic, English, Farsi, Hindi and even Japanese.

- They are feminine yet tenacious and resilient. They understand how to use their natural tendencies as women to lead, create and push boundaries without trying to act like men.

- They are gracious and polite, sometimes to a fault, resistant to directly address an issue for fear of offending or humiliating the other.

- They have taken advantage of education opportunities both in the UAE as well as abroad in a wide range of disciplines such as engineering, science, media and communications, computer technology, law, commerce, and the oil industry.

- They follow their passion and sense of purpose in perusing careers in different industries such as archaeology, banking, publishing, agriculture, tourism, health, government, and aeronautical engineering.

- They are spirited, innovative and creative, eliminating economic, social and political boundaries in order to maximize their potential.

For those who don't grasp the celebratory theme of this piece and are looking to highlight the flaws, let me share this with you: certainly these qualities are not attributed evenly and indiscriminately to all Emirati women. Are there those who don't match this profile? Of course there are or else I would think I'm living in some quasi Middle Eastern dystopia instead of this actual ever evolving and dynamic society. The Unites Arab Emirates, like other countries also have their social, economic and political concerns but I guess what I'm saying is that I wanted you to have a broader understanding of the daughters of this desert, being exposed to a reality presented here which is often ignored by western media and downplayed by their humble expressive repertoire.

What's most interesting perhaps is that all these endeavours and characteristics described above are not as a result of the modernization that the country has undergone. Previously, Emirati women would practice and portray these skills by taking care of the family's agricultural and household needs, in the harsh desert environment, as well as be primary care providers when the men traveled for months at a time to work in the pearling or fishing industries.

Of course, the role of Emirati women has transformed in line with the country's development plans and this has been possible due to their existing strength, confidence and the leadership of the UAE who have carved out a space for the women to be able to visibly and proficiently germinate the seeds of who they want to be, not only as individuals but also as members of the communal UAE garden.

I salute you Major Mariam Al Mansouri and all the women world wide who are modelling the way and inspiring us all to join forces to develop a better world for our children.

Remember, learning more results in living more... over to you.

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