x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

UAE's first female Speaker used to blazing a trail for women

When Dr Amal Al Qubaisi took the FNC Speaker's chair on Tuesday, it was not the first time she had blazed a trail for UAE women.

Dr Amal Al Qubaisi speaks during this week's meeting of the FNC. She stepped into the Speaker's role for the session to stand in for Mohammed Al Murr, who was not able to attend. Ben Job / Reuters
Dr Amal Al Qubaisi speaks during this week's meeting of the FNC. She stepped into the Speaker's role for the session to stand in for Mohammed Al Murr, who was not able to attend. Ben Job / Reuters

Dr Amal Al Qubaisi made history when she stepped into the Speaker's role at this week's session of the FNC. But it was little wonder it did not turn her head, Ola Salem reports

ABU DHABI // When Dr Amal Al Qubaisi took the FNC Speaker's chair on Tuesday, it was not the first time she had blazed a trail for UAE women.

In 2006, the mother became the first female member of the FNC, in its first elections.

She was not the only female candidate - there were 62 others and 390 men - but she was the only one elected.

Dr Al Qubaisi, 43, was determined to run as soon as she saw her name on the list of eligible Emiratis.

Her campaign was not without hurdles. She was forced to redraw all of her campaign posters and leaflets because they carried the UAE flag.

But it was worth it. On December 16 that year Dr Al Qubaisi became the first women on the FNC, a moment she has described as among the happiest of her life.

Her voice was regularly heard on the council. She became known as a powerful advocate for women, calling for longer maternity leave and earlier retirement, and spoke passionately about the importance of national identity and the Arabic language.

Outside the chamber, Dr Al Qubaisi was active in the UAE and abroad. She strongly supported a 2010 federal Supreme Court ruling that gave a woman the right to travel abroad with her children even if her husband objected.

After her first term she was keen to run for re-election but her name was not on the list of those entitled to vote or stand.

Some were puzzled but others, such as former FNC member Rashid Al Marar, were confident her voice would not be lost to the council.

So Mr Al Marar was unsurprised when, in early November, she was named one of the 20 appointed members of the new FNC.

She wasted no time in making history yet again, putting herself forward at the new council's first session to be Deputy Speaker.

The council agreed, making her the first in the GCC to hold such a post.

On Tuesday, all eyes were on Dr Al Qubaisi as she walked up to the highest platform in the council and took the Speaker's chair.

If she was nervous, it did not show at any point in the four-hour session.

"I saw a dream that is well-deserved for women, which Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak [wife of the late President Sheikh Zayed] has called for for years - since maybe 1995 - for women to be members in the parliament," she told the council.

"And today we are found not only in the council but in a high percentage, and [a women] is also in a leading role in the council and exercises her right to head a session.

"Today, Emirati women are a model for Gulf or Arab women."

Every member who spoke in the session took a moment to congratulate her.

"Dr Amal is an accomplished women in many areas," said Noura Al Kaabi, an Abu Dhabi member. "And of course, her experience with the parliament is something that led us to reach such a day."

Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for FNC Affairs, said it was a historic moment for the council.

osalem@thenational.ae