Wknd special: 7 KT women editors on Sarah Al Amiri
Sarah bint Yousif Al Amiri’s monumental achievements have inspired a generation of women. But what does it mean for those in newsrooms? Seven Khaleej Times editors weigh in
Facts leave no room for daydreaming in a newsroom. And yet, once in a while, we encounter stories we know will not only inspire us but generations to come. Today, that story belongs to Sarah bint Yousif Al Amiri, the UAE’s first Minister of State for Advanced Sciences and chairperson of the UAE Space Agency. Helming the Hope Probe in a sector known to predominantly comprise men, Amiri set a new template of success for women in the region. What do her achievements mean to women in a newsroom?
The protagonist I’d been waiting for
For a long time now, we’ve been telling stories the wrong way. The girls dress up in pink and learn how to sew and walk in heels, and the boys dress up in blue and learn not to cry. The girls who play soccer and the boys who make pasta don’t make it to the main plot but linger in the footnotes. It’s time to correct that. I’m a storyteller, and for me, Sarah Al Amiri is the protagonist I’d been waiting for a long time. There is space and outer space, and there is Sarah Al Amiri making readers believe that there’s a bridge connecting the two, that a female in her 30s can not only build a queendom on this planet but also inspire others to build one on another planet should they aspire to. Here’s a female protagonist, who is not necessarily in a gown or even a pantsuit, but a hijab that reflects faith, confidence and skill. Hers is a story that should have made it to bedtime lores we read to our children long ago. For she is not just another female protagonist, but an icon whose tale, when read, compels you to say, “I want to be her.” She is the person of the year, because she stands for a world where gender can no longer define how far one can go. In this case, 493.5 million kilometres.
My boy found a Superwoman
Five years ago, I returned to my workplace, after having exhausted my maternity leave, with a heart filled with trepidation. It was not so much the career I had embraced from an early age, but the hours I’d have to put in away from my baby that was the cause of consternation.
Fast forward to a recent night, where eschewing his usual, strictly-enforced bedtime, my 5-year-old kept me company as we waited with bated breath for the news of the Hope spacecraft entering Martian orbit. Fingers crossed, eyes unblinking, he sat by my side summoning up ‘good luck’ to cheer on the UAE’s successful space mission.
Nothing gave me greater pleasure than telling the little boy who hero-worships Superman and his ilk, that it was a super woman who helmed the Mars mission. A woman who gives me and every woman out there a sense of pride and achievement.
Sarah Al Amiri did not just head the Hope Arbiter Mission. She showed all of us that there is no bigger barrier than the ones we create in our own minds. And there is nothing to stop any of us from truly reaching for the stars.
Her passion for space fuels my ambition
To be a woman is to choose to love, against all odds. For Sarah Al Amiri, space was that one great love she was ready to go all out for.
She aimed for the stars at a time when universities didn’t have the majors to get her there. She mastered her science, maths, and binaries as an engineer, and when the cosmos beckoned, she was excited to take the leap. As soon as she had the opportunity to be part of the UAE’s space industry, she grabbed it and never let it go. She worked her way up, from helping build the first Emirati Earth observation satellite to becoming the face of Hope. And her secret? She loves space.
More than a leader, Sarah is an inspiration to the youth and the young women looking for something to give their all to. I may not be into space but Sarah is my rockstar. One day, I hope to talk about something the way Sarah talks about Mars and her team. She glows as she describes rocket launches and spacecraft calculations, and turns earnest as she recalls the anxiety and sleepless nights the Hope probe team went through to turn a dream into reality. Now that’s a woman who loves what she does with all her heart — a woman who makes the impossible possible.
Women will pursue space exploration now
All eyes were glued to the screen on February 9 as the UAE’s ambitious Mars Mission successfully entered the red planet’s orbit. The Hope probe made history, marking a first for the Arab world, a major accomplishment for the country’s young space programme, and a turning point for women in the region.
The UAE is the first Arab country to launch an interplanetary probe to Mars, with an unprecedented team comprising 34 per cent women, led by scientist Sarah Al Amiri, the UAE’s Minister of State for Advanced Technology.
In a 2017 TEDX talk in Dubai, Amiri said she saw the image of the Andromeda Galaxy, the closest to our Milky Way, at the age of 12, and wanted to learn everything about space. Little did she know she would make history.
If Sarah Al Amiri never dared dream of planetary exploration, imagine what the next generation of women who have her as a role model, can accomplish within their lifetime. Our only boundaries are our imagination.
The minister’s accomplishments serve not only as a milestone for the UAE, but as a source of inspiration, and a push for more young women to pursue space exploration, a symbol of independence, hope and peace.
She’s turned Hope into reality
“It’s no rocket science” is what they said when setting a benchmark in achievement. Nothing tops that. So, just how smart does one have to be when she controls a space called infinity that lies beyond earthly confines and worldly wisdom?
I’d say it’s the kind of smarts that has a multiplier effect in measures of light years.
With the Mars Mission, lead scientist Sarah Al Amiri is living proof of being empowered by the UAE — that has leapfrogged into a select super league — and the protagonist in a story of how a tiny country converted an arid desert land into a hub for the future.
She’s not starry-eyed, a fantasist; she talks about monumental shifts, about working for a better tomorrow, about breaking gender stereotypes. She goes back in time to when, not too long ago, her father’s family drank water with traces of rust, that was yellow in colour — “they had to filter it using pieces of cloth”.
From then to now, it’s been a meteoric rise, thanks to the likes of her.
It’s all very well that we dream of reaching for the stars. The closest I’ve come to it is by reaching for the remote to watch Luke Skywalker on the telly.
Sarah, on the other, has converted Hope into reality.
A woman who does not accept defeat
The warm smile, the composure and the confidence in her demeanour is infectious. Hours prior to the nail-biting moment of the now successful Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) of Al Amal (Hope Probe), 34-year-old Amiri, dazzled the stage with her presence, taking charge and explaining to the audience at Burj Plaza in Dubai, about the critical aspects of the high stake mission with great precision and patience. Assertive yet calm, focused yet unemotional, she exhibited optimism even in the most uncertain moment, reiterating that ‘impossible is possible’.
And despite the euphoria generated by the enormous triumph around her with the success of the MOI, Amiri, who presided over the press briefing at Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre the following day, looked as decisive, authoritative, resolute and stoic on the dais, while soaking in the success of the mission, as she was the previous evening while handling dubiety. Without unnecessarily amplifying recent glories, her persona exuded the elegance of a woman who never accepted defeat and one who had her hand on the pulse of the mission at all times.
Masterclass on why we should invest in women
They say aim for the stars and you may
reach the sky. But if you have a Sarah Al Amiri to emulate, you have to look beyond.
As a young minister who led the UAE’s ambitious Mars Mission — Hope Probe — the 34-year old has become an inspiration to a new generation of Emiratis who have set their gaze on the outer space.
It is one thing to be heading the UAE’s Space Agency and leading some of the brightest minds in the country, and another to be in the saddle in a stereotypically male-dominated field like space. For government leaders and policy pundits, Al Amiri offers a masterclass on why countries should invest in their women.
While womenfolk across the globe are still fighting for equal pay and respect in workplace, her meteoric rise as a minister gives hope and confidence for millions of women to ask for what they deserve. Amiri teaches us that we can break the glass ceiling if we have grit and determination. She shows us how to conquer the milky way of success by believing in ourselves.