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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Emirati women pilots challenge misconceptions about the shayla

Speaking at a panel held at the Etihad Training Academy, the women said they faced misconceptions about their traditional attire

Second to left, Salma al Baloushi, Etihad’s first woman pilot, Mariam Al Obaidli, technical engineer, Alya al Matrooshi, lawyer, and Moza al Balooshi, assistant airport manager
speak at a panel held at the Etihad Training Academy on Tuesday. Reem Mohammed / The National
Second to left, Salma al Baloushi, Etihad’s first woman pilot, Mariam Al Obaidli, technical engineer, Alya al Matrooshi, lawyer, and Moza al Balooshi, assistant airport manager speak at a panel held at the Etihad Training Academy on Tuesday. Reem Mohammed / The National

Emirati women are countering stereotypes by addressing misconceptions when it comes to wearing cultural and religious clothing at work.

Etihad’s first woman pilot Salma Al Baloushi has a ready response when asked how she is allowed to wear a shayla to work.

“I say, ‘It covers my head, it does not cover my brain. What we wear may be a problem for others but it’s not a problem for us. These are just misconceptions. But also when people see us wearing a hijab and shayla and doing different kinds of jobs, they will realize that this also is representative of Emirati women.”

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Assistant airport manager Moza Al Balooshi also worked in Dublin where her traditional attire raised some eyebrows.

“I was the only Emirati wearing a hijab, I was asked where I was from and how I would be able to work in it.”

Interaction builds communication, said Amani Al Hashmi, head of Etihad’s UAE national development, at the Etihad Training Academy on Tuesday which was part of celebrations toward the third annual Emirati Women’s Day on August 28.

A 10-month human resources exchange programme with General Electric took her to the conglomerate's Ohio office last year where she was the only woman in an abaya.

“I didn’t feel uncomfortable because GE is a global company. But you do get looks. Sometimes they are just curious. Sometimes it’s because in the media there is this constant negative messaging and some have an unconscious bias when you’re with them.”

Workshops on Arab culture and the history of the UAE helped build bridges.

“I spoke about everything from milestones in infrastructure to our women in parliament. I talked about how we have diplomats, engineers working in all positions. The best way to break stereotypes is to get to know someone, interact with them and get to know their stories. One of the things I did there was to share my personal story, my journey, my ambitions in the future because that humanizes the person.

Barriers were broken by interaction. The more conversations we had that they realized we had a lot in common and there are areas we can collaborate. Participating, contributing in their HR projects and the quality of the work, that was a stronger definition of who I am as a person rather than my looks.”