It’s no secret that the construction, architecture, engineering and urban planning sectors, are still mainly dominated by men. However, in the past few years governments around the globe, including the UAE have been driving initiatives that empower women to take the lead and follow their passion, regardless of the industry.
Since the UAE was first formed over 50 years ago, its people have been viewed as the nation’s true wealth. Consequently, gender equality has held paramount importance. Today, the nation considers women’s empowerment fundamental to developing a modern and progressive society and is proud to champion the considerable talents and capabilities of its female citizens.
This year marks the seventh anniversary of Emirati Women’s Day. The theme of this year’s edition highlights the country’s journey in women’s empowerment. Over the decades, the UAE has achieved several milestones that have paved the way for the nation’s position today as a leader in women’s equality in the Middle East, with women participating on an equal basis in civil, economic and political life.
Though, there is little doubt that when it comes to gender equity in architecture and development, there is still a long way to go. But over the past years, women within the UAE have been stepping up and standing against the tide, amongst them three female Emirati development managers Sara Bastaki, Amna Bin Thaneya and Mouza Al Alkim, who work with Majid Al Futtaim Communities.
Having worked across different projects within the UAE, the three Emirati architects are inspired by their heritage, culture and transformation of the country. Whether site visits or design meetings, seeing and developing a project from the ground up is incredibly mesmerising. Speaking about women in development, they all agree there is something in the DNA of women that makes them look at things differently. From the details to the overall design, it’s about understanding how users interact with a space and creating something that fulfils society’s needs.
Starting her career nine years ago, in a time when development was known as man’s world, Bastaki had ambitious plans after completing her master’s degree from Cambridge University in interdisciplinary design for the built environment. With a reputation that precedes the possibilities, development has always been categorised as a non-female-friendly environment, a challenge many have been standing up to.
Looking back, Bastaki said that in her experience, most male colleagues have been more than happy to help female workers. “Early in my career, the men I’ve worked with have helped me gain the knowledge that facilitated where I am in today.” Culture has been another factor widely discussed within the industry, having a huge influence on making an environment feel accessible.
Al Alkim learned to not let these voices and gender expectations dictate what she can and cannot do. With a slightly more difficult start in her career, she quickly realised that she had to make her mark by working hard and showing up with results. “People will always be quick to share their opinions, but in the end, only you can decide what your limitations and expectations are. It’s been an incredible experience building my career in the development field and being part of the impactful work we get to deliver. During that time, however, it also became clear that there are not enough women in our sector.”
Around the globe, women have made substantial inroads into construction industry jobs over the past decade, determined to make this male-driven industry more inclusive and diverse. As the next generation of Emiratis grows, so does the thinking about what roles a woman can and should take on. Today, women are encouraged to pursue a career in the once called “man’s world”, and Emirati women across the country feel empowered to make their own life choices.
“Being the only one can be intimidating, but chances are, you won’t be the only woman dreaming of breaking professional boundaries and rising to the top (particularly when it’s least expected), so trust your intuition and dream big,” said Bin Thaneya, who has followed this philosophy since she started her studies in architecture back in 2009.
“Today I am the first architect in the family, a feeling that not only makes me tremendously proud but also reminds me not to limit myself to think bigger. There is always room at the table for those who are willing to earn their seat,” she said.
Bin Thaneya was one of the ten young Emirati Female students, pursuing careers in art, design and architecture from universities across the emirates, selected to participate in the highly anticipated Sheikha Manal Art Exchange Program in Hong Kong. Following the programme, she developed an exclusive art piece that was showcased in Boxpark. These experiences, she said, altered how she thinks about design today and paved her path forever.
Next up is the “Futureneers”, an initiative led by the UAE Minister of Government Development and the Future. With the ambition to create a national platform that brings together young Emirati talents from various strategic fields to design ideas and solutions aiming to enhance the UAE’s readiness for the future, Bin Thaneya is excited to be part of this visionary initiative.
Through initiatives such as these, and driven by the ambition to position the UAE among the most advanced countries in terms of gender parity, the government is encouraging and opening new vistas for talented young women, allowing them to pursue a career of their dreams.
To date, growth is positive, with 29 per cent of the workforce being female in 2021, up from 23 per cent in 2011, which, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, makes the UAE one of the top five most-improved countries in the world for this index.
From Olympic gold medalists to ministers making vital decisions, aspiring scientists and even astronauts, women are at the forefront of the UAE’s culture and society. “There are a lot of positive examples of female empowerment in the UAE, but ultimately, it’s the country’s vision that drives us to strive to be everything we can be and reach our full potential. Women are an asset to any industry and deserve equal playing opportunities and having a career does not have to hold us back from being a mother. You can be who you want to be,” Bastaki added.
Bin Thaneya agrees. “Seeing women in powerful positions driving change is inspiring. Just think of EXPO 2020, an event that exceeded everyone’s expectations, led by an Emirati woman. Isn’t that enough proof that nothing is impossible?”
Al Alkim explained: “We are privileged that we are empowered in this country. But it’s not just about you and your personal achievements; it’s about the success of the emirates as a whole and its people – today and into the future.”