x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Sheikha Lubna, 'UAE's most powerful woman' inspires girls

Sheikha Lubna, the UAE trade minister named by Forbes magazine as the most powerful Arab female in the world, tells girls at university forum to never accept failure as a possibility.

Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi and H.E. Humaid Qattami, Minister of Education for the UAE, answer questions from young female students at the University City Hall in Sharjah.
Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi and H.E. Humaid Qattami, Minister of Education for the UAE, answer questions from young female students at the University City Hall in Sharjah.

SHARJAH // The situation is almost ironic. The potential of the woman named by Forbes magazine as the most powerful Arab female in the world was once doubted because she was not a man.

Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the UAE's minister of trade and the first woman to be named to a Federal cabinet post, was seen as a subordinate at her first important international function, she told a gathering of female middle-school students in the University City auditorium yesterday. The experience made her want to prove the point that gender should not get in the way of leadership.

"At my first World Trade Organization meeting they expected a man would be representing the UAE, not a woman, and thought I was just representing the minister," she said.

"They simply could not accept me in that position."

The desire to succeed was reflected in her most stirring comment to the students: "Failure to me is a catastrophe; I cannot accept it," which was received with loud cheers and applause. Her speech had an impact on those in the audience, including Aya Nasser, a grade-nine student at the Umm al Qaiwain public school, who was in awe of the fact that Ms al Qasimi was allowed to venture out of the country to pursue her goals.

"I was surprised that she was allowed to go abroad to study, which is really great," she said. "I think girls find it difficult to go after what they want, but I will work hard and some day be like her."

Ms Nasser's goal is a definite possibility in the Emirates, which has made significant strides in female empowerment. Emirati women gained full rights in parliamentary elections in 2006, and the UAE has the highest representation of women in legislative institutions in the region, 20 per cent of FNC seats. And they have contributed Dh14 billion to the UAE economy this year.

By highlighting the humble beginnings of her career with an Indian company, the minister tried to inspire her audience to create their own path through persistence.

"After I completed my degree programme in computer science I received many job offers in the US that could have lured me," she said. "I wanted to come back to where I grew up and start from scratch, without the use of the influence of my family or the adoption of other social influences."

Rubbing shoulders with male counterparts and working long hours on a salary of Dh 5,000 per month was not difficult, because she was determined to make good, she said. Her perseverance paid off when she was named economy minister in 2004.

She said the nation had left no stone unturned, from having more than three-quarters of female students attending institutions of higher education to two-third of the government sector being staffed by women. Dareen Ramzi, a 14-year-old Palestinian student, considers the minister a role model.

 

aahmed@thenational.ae