x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Encyclopaedia celebrating Emirati women being prepared

Founder of Dubai Women's Museum ponders display screen highlighting the changing role of women in politics, education and work.

The Dubai Women’s Museum collects artefacts, documents and stories about the role of women throughout UAE history. Christopher Pike / The National
The Dubai Women’s Museum collects artefacts, documents and stories about the role of women throughout UAE history. Christopher Pike / The National

DUBAI // The founder of the Dubai Women's Museum is preparing an encyclopaedia dedicated to Emirati women.

The book will celebrate the stories of UAE women, said Dr Rafia Ghubash.

The project was at the design stage, she said. "My thought is to start with an electronic one, a big screen here in the museum."

More than 1,000 people have visited the museum since it opened in December. But while tour companies regularly drop off bus loads of tourists in the nearby Gold Souq, no tour group has come to the museum so far - something Dr Ghubash hopes to change.

"They are not interested in our museum," she said. "Their intention is a very quick tour, not to learn about the society." But she is lobbying tour companies to change that attitude.

The museum collects artefacts, documents and stories about the role of women throughout UAE history.

"We are empowered since our grandmothers," Dr Ghubash said. "They work, they have businesses, they contribute."

It is a personal project of Dr Ghubash, a professor and psychiatrist who grew up in the surrounding area of Deira. The museum's location was once the home of three unmarried women. It was referred to by neighbours as "Bait Al Banat", or the girls' house.

"This is the heart of Dubai, and people forget this area," Dr Ghubash said.

Many people expected the museum to be a repository of clothing and jewellery, Dr Ghubash said. While the main gallery does have delicate dresses and perfumes, it also contains informational panels about women in society.

"We did our best to try to try to make the main issue politics, education, economic empowerment," Dr Ghubash said.

A panel about politics describes women's contributions dating back to the 19th-century. In 1819, women fought alongside men to defend Ras Al Khaimah against the British, who attacked from the sea. And in the following century, Sheikha Meera bint Mohammed Al Suwaidi governed Sharjah for two years while her husband was ill.

"They did not have a ruling position, but they were very important for influencing the Rulers," said Hawra Askari, the museum's coordinator.

Documents dating from the 1950s outline real estate transactions made by women.

"This is important evidence to show that women had the freedom," Ms Askari said.

The museum also contains a display of burqas, traditional face masks worn by women in the Arabian Gulf - distinct from the Afghan garment.

Women began wearing the soft masks when they married, polishing them with a shell for special occasions, Ms Askari said.

A glass case of "folkloric remedies" shows traditional treatments such as fenugreek - for kidney stones - and aloe, to ease digestive disorders.

Finally, a collection of household items, such as pots and utensils, was donated by local women. Before modern refrigeration, families were able to keep boiled and salted meat in glazed jars for more than a year, Ms Askari said.

Dr Ghubash's late mother has a special place in the museum, with an alcove under development that will trace the history of Dubai through her letters and papers.

In a photograph dating to about 1960, Dr Ghubash's mother is shown reading - she taught herself, using her brother's books.

Dr Ghubash said her mother used to tell her: "This issue of women's rights, they put it in the wrong way. Your right is with you; you are born with it. Nobody can give it to you."

The museum, near the Gold Souq behind RAK Bank, is open Saturday to Thursday, 10am to 7pm. Visit www.womenmuseumuae.com for information and directions.

vnereim@thenational.ae