DUBAI // Writing has always been a labour of love for high-achieving Dr Rafia Ghubash, so championing the history and contributions of other prominent Emirati women came easily.
The academic has been a major driving force in the effort to establish a museum and encyclopaedia detailing the lives of leading Emirati women, and just such a museum will open this autumn in Dubai.
Dr Ghubash, 52, is a meticulous researcher, and has been known to delve into poetry on some occasions to build up a picture of her subject's history, preserving and promoting the woman's profile for younger generations.
"I started to write about the history of women in the UAE from the 1900s onwards, because I felt that it was important to document it," she said.
"I found out the history of Hessa bint al Murr (the mother of the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai for 32 years) from poetry, and I also made sure to select women with contributions to politics, business, education and media, among others."
The three-floor museum is set to open in the Gold Souq by this autumn. It will be called Beit al Banat, which means House of Girls.
"The idea for a women's museum was spontaneous. Through research, I found that there were museums for women in Copenhagen and Japan, but they had focused on their struggles rather than their accomplishments," Dr Ghubash said. "When people started hearing about the project, they began to donate some of their collectables."
With an enduring appreciation for the culture of the country, Dr Ghubash is determined to reach the younger generation of women through such projects.
"What pains me is that I feel they are detached from the reality of their society and history," she said recently. "We work to achieve things because we value our history, family and ancestors. I gave a lecture to a group of girls a few days ago, and I was dismayed that they could not name one woman who had made a substantial contribution to the country."
Dr Ghubash's noteworthy academic and professional accomplishments have set a precedent for other women in the UAE. She studied medicine at Cairo University, and earned a PhD in community and epidemiological psychiatry from the University of London in 1992. She holds both the UK and Arab board certificates for psychiatry.
Her strong work ethic has paid off with numerous distinctions and awards, the latest coming from Women Deliver, a global advocacy group that honours exemplary individuals who have brought change for women around the world.
"Ghubash is transforming science and technology research in the Arab world - one woman at a time," Women Deliver has written on its website. "She is committed to advancing women's education and correcting the gender imbalance in the fields of science and technology."
Throughout her career as a professor, researcher and psychiatrist, Dr Ghubash has published papers in international journals, many of which delve into postnatal depression. She has also written and co-written books, among them a history of medicine in the UAE with Dr Maryam Sultan Lootah.
She became the dean of the faculty of medicine and health sciences at UAE University in 1996, and president of Arabian Gulf University in Bahrain from 2001 to 2009 - in each case the first time a woman has held the position.
"Dr Rafia Ghubash is unique among leading figures in the GCC and a true intellectual among Arab thought leaders," said Dr May Abdallah al Dabbagh, director of the gender and public policy programme at Dubai School of Government.
"She has unequivocally shattered the stereotype of the oppressed and dependent Gulf woman in every possible way - whether as a seasoned medical doctor and psychiatrist who is published in top academic journals, or as an activist and critical thinker who has made innovative contributions to intellectual and policy discourse through writing and participating in social and academic events in the region. She is a woman of true convictions and a force to be reckoned with."
Dr Ghubash says she thrives on a cycle of continuous learning, pushing herself constantly to break new boundaries. "Writing papers that are published in journals with top scientists in the world, that is one of the greatest achievements in my career," she explains.
"I loved doing research. If you ask me what I enjoy the most as well, it is giving lectures because it is a chance to learn."
She says her mother, Osha Hussein Lootah, was a woman ahead of her time, a true disciplinarian who was also keen for her children to nurture their minds. "She is an outstanding woman who had a notable presence in the community . what made her happy was seeing something I had written."