UAE Women’s Day celebrates 1st female airbus pilot, army school recruits

Marks Emirati Women’s Day with the country’s first female Airbus pilot and new military school recruits

Rua’a Alameri
Rua’a Alameri - Al Arabiya English, Dubai
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The UAE now has its first female Airbus pilot and a new batch of women enrolled in a military school as the Gulf country marked its second year celebrating Emirati Women’s Day on Sunday.

Touted for its progressive support for its women workforce in the Gulf region, the UAE has instituted Emirati Women’s Day on Aug. 28, 2015 to commemorate women’s success and contribution across the country.

“Emirati Women’s day is a day to celebrate every woman who contributed to society, young or old in different areas - be it sports, education, engineering, and business,” Amna al-Haddad - who was part of the UAE weightlifting team that qualified for the Olympics - told Al Arabiya English.

Haddad says that the UAE empowers Emirati women like herself “to pursue goals, achieve and take an active role in society and decision-making.”

With radio stations celebrating the day and national newspapers carrying headlines in support of women’s advancement, the occasion also marks the continuation of the progress made since the General Women’s Union (GWU) was established in 1975 to further empower Emirati women.

On the day, another Emirati woman has made a new stride for herself.

Aisha al-Mansouri has become the UAE’s first women to be Etihad Airways’ newly appointed Airbus A380 female pilot. Mansouri will be flying the double-decker, four-engine passenger jet airliner for the country’s flagship airliner with pride.

The pilot is a sister of another woman who made headlines – Mariam al-Mansouri, the UAE’s first female fighter pilot, who led the UAE mission against ISIS in Iraq in late 2014.

The UAE also announced on Sunday a new batch of Emirati women to be accepted into the country’s military school, state news agency WAM reported.

The National and Reserve Service Authority (NSRA) said a fifth batch of the female recruits will join on Sep. 17 at Khawla Bint Al Azwar Military School - the Gulf region’s first military college for women, but not detailing the number of women comprising the batch.

The NSRA stated that the training program ensures to build “strong characters, capable of defending the homeland and preserving its gains whether at times of peace or war.”

Military service is compulsory for some men but it is optional for women aged 18 to 30, provided they have their parents’ consent.

Accepting women in its military force stems from UAE’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who have long urged for further women’s participation.

“We told them that we have many young men, and if their number is not enough we have young women,” the late Sheikh Zayed said.

The UAE has also been part of a Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen – Operation Restoring Hope – along with other GCC countries which began in March last year. While in June this year, the UAE announced that the “war is over” for its troops in Yemen, it kept them there for “counterterrorism operations” to fight al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliated groups.

Emirati columnist, Khalid al-Ameri told Al Arabiya English that women play a significant role in the military and many other fields, saying that it “has been something in the mindset of our leadership since the beginning.”

“Women take the opportunities and run with them,” Ameri said, “I am willing to bet that whatever higher number the military school is willing to accept, the amount of women willing to volunteer will be higher, it will be oversubscribed if you will.”

While female representation in politics is a global issue, Ameri said Emirati women “have a strong focus on the things they want relative to their male counterparts, and are taking every opportunity to make it possible.”

Ameri said the world has a false impression of the Gulf and women’s role in the region. “we need to make our own narrative and tell people the facts,” he said.

Women now make up eight of the 29 members of the federal cabinet and Ameri believes that within a few decades, it will be women who will be the driving force behind the UAE. “Last year, we didn’t have many women in government positions, and now there are several, so it goes to show the huge advancements with regards to the empowerment of women in decision-making roles,” he said.

Not just in the military, UAE women are already feeling the tangible change coming through in other field as well.

Vice-President of the UAE Gender Balance Council, Mona al-Marri, said Emirati women account for 70 percent of university enrollment. While 66 percent of all public sector jobs and 30 percent of all decision-making positions within government are held by women, CEO of Dubai Women Establishment Shamsa Al Saleh said.

The progressive role of women has made a leap in the country in recent years. Several initiatives have been put in place for empowering women and broadening their horizons to take a more active role in society. As the years go on, the participation of women in senior positions, representative and judicial authorities has increased.

For 26-year-old Arwa al-Falasi, the vision of the UAE leaders to empower and support women of the country gives her immense honor to call herself an Emirati woman.

“Every time I see how much this country’s rulers care about the citizens, the sense of pride in me grows a little more,” Falasi said.

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