x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Women forge their own path forward

International event, including speeches by Sigourney Weaver and Zeinab Badawi, brings chance to gauge progress of Emirati women.

ABU DHABI // World-renowned female journalists, business leaders and Hollywood stars will be welcomed to Abu Dhabi next month in a celebration of women who have excelled in their chosen fields.

The fourth Women as Global Leaders Conference, to be held at Zayed University's Khalifa City campus, will have among its guest speakers the CNN correspondent Hala Gorani, the BBC reporter and news presenter Zeinab Badawi, and the US actress Sigourney Weaver.

They will address more than 1,000 students and educators from the UAE and around the world.

This year's event, from March 13 to 15, is the first since 2008 and will focus on global sustainability with studies falling into one of four categories: environmental, cultural, social, or economic sustainability.

The excitement surrounding the conference is an indication of its importance, said Dr Tom Cochran, the university's campus director.

"They are getting bigger because it is a student-driven conference in a place where there are not many outlets for students to present scholarly work," Dr Cochran said.

By holding the Women as Global Leaders Conference, Zayed University is leading the way for other educational establishments in the Emirates to follow suit, said Dr Larry Wilson, the provost.

"This conference presents a unique dialogue, communication and an exchange of ideas among young students," Dr Wilson said.

"During the previous conferences in 2005, 2006 and 2008, we had more than 1,800 students, professionals and thought leaders interact with some of the most prominent female leaders from around the globe for the advancement of women's leadership."

Queen Rania of Jordan attended the 2006 conference and spoke of the importance the event played in supporting women's education.

While the event has played a strong role in broadening the horizons of Emirati females, in education and in allowing them to meet fellow students from all corners of the world, they have been making strides on their own for many years, said Dr Courtney Stryker, from the student life and leadership department of the university.

"I have been here for over six years and that is not long, but I would never have believed the advancements they have made," Dr Stryker said.

"At the university, the transition that we see here with each new class has been tremendous."

From more confidence to understanding and discussing their roles as woman on a more frequent basis, leadership is becoming an increasingly important skill among female Emiratis.

The conference will discuss topics including Emirati women in leadership roles and ways to improve their presence.

There will also be sessions discussing education, heritage, identity issues and urbanisation.

The attendance this year is not expected to surpass the 1,500 at the 2008 event, but that is no reflection of the quality of the conference or the papers put forward for submission, said Dr Stryker.

"The evaluation committee reviewed more than 300 proposals for papers, panels, workshops and roundtable sessions," she said.

This year's chosen papers will also be the first to be jointly reviewed by Cambridge University, a partnership that will give the conference international recognition, said Dr Stryker.