UAE women break the glass ceiling in space


Dubai - UAE has shown to the world that it walks the talk when it comes to gender equality.

By Nandini Sircar

Published: Sat 10 Apr 2021, 7:48 PM

The UAE has an unprecedented record for the inclusion of women in all sectors, especially space, that has challenged global conventions.

In announcing the first female Arab astronaut Nora Al Matrooshi who will be joining her colleague Mohammed Al Mulla to form the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme, the UAE has shown to the world that it walks the talk when it comes to gender equality.

The biggest proof of this fact is that 50 per cent of employees at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) comprise women.

Trailblazing women like Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Technology and the Chairperson of the UAE Space Agency, has been quoted saying “we don’t usually see the same trend of inequality that you see globally. Ironically, when we meet with international entities, that’s when I’m often the only woman in the room.”

Salem AlMarri, UAE’s Assistant Director General for Scientific and Technical Affairs and Head of the UAE Astronaut Programme, Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in an exclusive telephonic interview with Khaleej Times on Saturday said: “If you look at the number of students who graduate from the UAE universities, women are double in numbers as compared to male graduates. There is an increase in numbers of female engineers and scientists, so looking at the number of graduates coming through, the drive and push for women to be at the workplace, especially in space… they, one day could be higher in numbers as compared to their male counterparts.”

Even Omran Sharaf, Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) Project Director, during a tête-à-tête with KT had earlier talked about the UAE’s sustained commitment towards women who are finding their place in space.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a woman who gets selected for the UAE’s Astronaut Programme this time. Anything can happen. One thing that is unique about the EMM, as compared to other similar missions that you will find around the world, is that 34 per cent of the workforce is Emirati women out of the 200 people working on this mission. I have eight deputies in the mission and 50 per cent of the leadership (out of those eight) within the EMM are women.”

“Around 80 per cent of our science team consists of women and each one of them has earned their position because of their work and not because someone is a woman. We look at the merit and performance. We give an opportunity to everyone regardless of gender. This was the mindset that was set and has been the vision of the country when it was established on 2 December 1971. This journey didn’t start with EMM, this journey started 50 years ago.”

Congratulatory messages

Hasan Ahmad Al Hariri, CEO, Dubai Astronomy Group and Director Al Thuraya Astronomy Center, says, “It is one of the best news that we’ve heard of. It will open the door for more candidates and to select a woman for this role is an amazing step forward. In academia, girls are at the forefront by securing high marks and with this decision once again, UAE reinforces that women in the Arab world are no less than men. They are set to achieve high on all scales and selecting a woman for this role is a benchmark and goes to show how much we can achieve amazing things. Women are not only getting empowered but are paving the way for a new generation. We hope the best for the new candidates and wish them all the luck.”

Congratulating the UAE on the announcement of its two new astronauts Dr Mila Mitra Chief Scientific Officer & Co-founder STEM & Space, India explains how women have participated in scientific research on the space station for decades now and have become an integral part of advances in various such programmes. “On behalf of India and STEM & Space, we congratulate UAE on the announcement of two new UAE astronauts, including the first woman astronaut Nora Al Matrooshi. She was picked from a large pool of candidates which rigorously tested intellect and experience as well as physical and medical fitness.”

She adds, “The inclusion of a woman astronaut in a role so far dominated by male presence, attests to UAE’s as well as an international commitment to increase gender equality in the space sector. Recently, NASA’s Artemis programme has also stated the commitment to push for gender and racial diversity.

“It is important for women to be highlighted in these roles to inspire future generations and students to embark along similar career paths, as science and technology will play a dominant role in our societies. It will also be essential in space exploration and colonisation to include diverse opinions, skills and psychological mindsets as these will be essential as astronauts are considered for long term missions.”

Al Matroushi and Al Mulla will begin their training at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas by the end of this year. They will also be joined by the first two astronauts Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan Al Neyadi for their training programme.

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