Six young Emirati women experience island living without families
Dubai - According to Nada, meeting people from other cultures opened her mind and bolstered her confidence.
The upcoming generation of Emirati women have been breaking barriers, challenging stereotypes and dreaming big - serving as role models for the country's young girls.
Six female university students, the first from the UAE, flew to Thailand for an exchange programme where they introduced the country, including its heritage, culture and people, to the teachers and students of some small, scenic Thai islands.
It was an epic week-long trip for Emirati media students Latifa Adel, Fatma Ahli, Amna Al Ali, Nada Hussain, Shaza Mohammed and Maryam Aljasmi, from the Zayed University and the Ajman University.
Besides presenting the UAE's values and traditions and learning about Thai culture, they tried squid fishing and picked coconuts using handmade tools - activities that are usually done by men. They also visited rubber plantations and organic farms, interacted with local Thai communities, and learnt jungle survival tactics.
According to Nada, meeting people from other cultures opened her mind and bolstered her confidence.
"Times are changing. My parents were initially apprehensive about sending me for this experience as women going out in an unknown land is not too common in our society. However, when I explained how this trip can help me grow, they allowed me to make a decision," Nada said.
Amna agreed that such trips make Emirati women stronger.
"I am glad our society is opening up and giving us a chance to explore the world, rather than restricting us to our homes. All this was possible because the UAE's founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, opened the doors to education for women," she said.
Another media student from Zayed University, Latifa, said it was a character-building opportunity.
"I think women should firmly believe in themselves and their capabilities, no matter what they're told. It's very important to always push yourself to do better," Latifa said.
Shaza and Fatma, who also travelled for the first time without their families, said their parents were encouraging and understanding about letting them explore on their own.
"We are grateful to our country for believing in us women, giving us such opportunities to go out and learn."
The trip was organised by the Royal Thai Consulate-General in Dubai and the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
The young women were among the few GCC citizens who were given a chance to experience the sustainable activities and practices of low-carbon islands Koh Mak and Koh Chang.
UAE WOMEN ON TOP OF THE GAME
>50% of seats in the next Federal National Council (FNC) chapter will be occupied by women
>FNC speaker Dr Amal Abdullah Al Qubaisi is the region's first female leader of a national assembly
>9 female ministers currently serve in the UAE Cabinet
>Women account for 22.2% of FNC members in the current 14th legislative chapter
>66% of the UAE's labour force are women
>Women take up 75% of jobs in the health and education sectors
>They also excel in the sectors of space, justice and artificial intelligence
>22,000 businesses are owned by 12,000 Emirati women in 2015
>Dh45 billion is the estimated worth of their investments
>21% of businesswomen in the GCC are Emiratis
>77% of Emirati women enroll in higher education
>70% of university graduates in the UAE are women
>They serve as role models in artistic, cultural and intellectual pursuits
>The UAE leads Arab countries in terms of gender balance, according to an annual index issued by the United Nations Development Programme
>It has been ranked high in gender equality globally - especially in terms of literacy and participation in secondary and higher education - according to a 2016 report from the World Economic Forum
How the country supports its women
>The President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, ordered that women representation be doubled in the FNC from the current 22.5 per cent to 50 per cent
>Women's organisations - such as the General Women's Union and the Gender Balance Council - have drafted strategies to encourage the participation of women and empower them in all areas of life
>In 2015, the UAE launched the National
Strategy for Empowerment of Emirati
Women that provides a framework for all government entities and firms to set plans and provide decent living standards and work for women
>The Gender Balance Council launched the Gender Balance Guide: Actions for UAE Organisations as a resource to develop clear procedures and adopt concrete action plans to entrench gender balance practices in the workplace
HISTORY OF EMPOWERMENT: Age-old photos from Sharjah museums show that women in the UAE have long been considered partners in nation-building.