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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Emirati Women's Day: UAE's Mahra Al Hanaei and Ashwaq Al Koori set an example at Asian Games

Al Hanaei wins silver medal while Al Koori makes history as referee, but there are other heroic performances in Indonesia as well

Mahra Al Hanaei, in white, was beaten in the 49-kilogram women's jiu-jitsu final. Reem Mohammed / The National
Mahra Al Hanaei, in white, was beaten in the 49-kilogram women's jiu-jitsu final. Reem Mohammed / The National

Anyone seeking a testament to the fact that women have come a long way in the UAE need only cast an eye over the ongoing Asian Games, where two Emiratis have done their nation proud.

On Friday, Mahra Al Hanaei put UAE women's jiu-jitsu firmly on the world map when she won a silver medal for her efforts in the 49-kilogram weight division.

Al Hanaei lost narrowly to Jessa Khan of Cambodia in the final, but not before muscling her way past an Afghan, a Mongolian and a Vietnamese. She was particularly brutal against Thi Thanh Minh Duong, whom she beat 14-0 in the semi-finals.

At 17, it is scary to imagine what she can achieve in the years to come.

The other Emirati blazing a trail through the Indonesian capital of Jakarta is Ashwaq Al Koori, who became the first woman from the country to officiate a jiu-jitsu fight at the Asiad.

Just 21 years old, Al Koori may have been pushed in at the deep end. But anyone watching the manner in which she handled tense situations involving fighting women and men would have been proud of her skills and temperament.

Naturally, Al Hanaei and Al Koori are determined to inspire others by setting a example, which they could not have done at a more opportune time, as the nation celebrates Emirati Women’s Day on Tuesday.

Mahra Al Hanaei, centre, pictured with her fellow athlete sisters, Maha, left, and Hana. Antonie Robertson / The National
Mahra Al Hanaei, centre, pictured with her fellow athlete sisters, Maha, left, and Hana. Antonie Robertson / The National

“Today, the Emirati women are in important positions, including in the federal government, and are contributing in building our nation in all spheres - be it at home or in professional careers,” Al Hanaei told The National.

“They are excelling in both academics and sports, and there are no limits to them. I want be a role model to inspire Emirati women to chase their dreams and cherish the milestones they achieve.”

Al Koori, herself a silver medallist at the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship in March, has a simple message for her "Emirati mothers and sisters", which is to "follow their passion and life goals, like me, and you will definitely succeed".

It is a simple message, but one that can be realised only through hard work.

Al Koori was pursuing a course in electrical engineering at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi while attending a referee's workshop every weekend for six months.

“I have been practising and taking part in competitions for more than nine years, and the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation had called applications from Emirati females,” said Al Koori, a purple belt in the martial art.

“I never expected to officiate at the Asian Games and but here I am on the big stage."

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More from Amith Passela at the Asian Games:

Khalfan Belhoul 'a hero' for fighting though the pain to guarantee UAE medal

UAE's Khalfan Belhoul settles for silver after fracturing ankle at Asian Games

'A dream come true': UAE's Faisal Al Ketbi wins jiu-jitsu gold at Asian Games

Points mix-up sees UAE's Khalid Al Maazmi miss out on Games jet ski medal

UAE go on medal rush at Asian Games with two golds and three silvers

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Hessa Al Shamsi, 17, represented the UAE in the 62kg weight class in the jiu-jitsu competition at the 2018 Asian Games. Reem Mohammed / The National
Hessa Al Shamsi, 17, represented the UAE in the 62kg weight class in the jiu-jitsu competition at the 2018 Asian Games. Reem Mohammed / The National

Talking of big stages, Al Hanaei is not the only woman in her family to shine under the spotlight. Her older sister, the 18-year-old Maha, is also in the national team, while Hanna, three years younger, is a budding jiu-jitsu fighter.

What makes all their stories even more remarkable is that sport only happens to be one of the routes they are willing to take to get to their aspirations.

Like in the case of Al Koori, who is an engineering graduate, Al Hanaei wants to become a medical doctor. Maha, meanwhile, is studying at the Higher Colleges of Technology in Al Ain to become an aeronautical engineer.

Hessa Al Shamsi, Al Hanaei’s teammate, wants to become the country’s ambassador.

“Women have a lot of abilities," Al Shamsi said, "and in the UAE, it’s such an honour for us to show all the people what we have and what we are capable of doing [when] provided the opportunities.

“I would say nothing is impossible. If you asked me four years ago, where I would reach, I wouldn’t be able to answer.

"I’m in the national team and then suddenly you realise how much you have done to reach this point,” added the 17 year old, who chose to represent her country at the Games despite being selected for a sports ambassadors' programme through an initiative in Boston.

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