International Women’s Day is marked around the world on Saturday March 8, with the efforts and achievements of women great and small set to be celebrated. The theme for this year’s Women’s Day is ‘Inspiring Change’ and one woman who is fulfilling that maxim in Dubai is Dr Rafia Ghubash, founder of the city’s Women’s Museum.
Dedicated to the lives of Emirati women, it opened in Deira in December 2012 and is the result of Dr Ghubash’s tireless efforts to ensure that women are not written out of the history books. ‘Most of our history is verbal,’ she says. ‘Very little is actually documented and what is, is not always by the Arab people, it’s by foreigners visiting us.’
Dr Ghubash was born and raised in Deira and studied psychiatry and medicine in Cairo and London. A high achieving woman in her own right, she has six degrees and has written more than 40 books and papers
Dr Ghubash funded the museum herself, which took seven years to complete. Tucked away in a narrow street near the old Gold Souk in the very heart of old Dubai, the museum is also known as ‘Bait al Banat’ which means ‘Girl’s House’ in Arabic. She fondly remembers growing up in the neighbourhood and her mother would send her to a house where unmarried sisters once lived – this is now the site of the museum.
The museum presents a view of Emirati women that challenges preconceptions and helps to break down stereotypes. ‘Some people see us covered with black abaya and they think there are empty minds behind it’ says Ghubash. ‘Some people think Arab women are living in a different time.’
The current exhibition shows how women in the UAE once lived some 50 and even 100 years ago, from the domestic pots and coffee burners to the clothes they wore. ‘There are dozens of names on the ground floor alone, and each name tells a story. We are trying to keep the people and their stories – rather than just the items. This is our philosophy – I wanted to change the concept of a museum, It’s not just a stagnant place with items. No, it should be dynamic, multi-sensory.’
The top floor has a beautiful room dedicated to the poet Ousha Bint Khalifa, who is known as the ‘The Girl of the Arabs’ and lyrics of her poetry beautifully adorn the curved walls in Arabic calligraphy. Also on display is a room dedicated to the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
‘Even though he’s a man, without him we might be behind by another 50 years’ explains the founder. ‘He spoke to the Bedouin community and encouraged them to send their children and girls to school.’
Dr Ghubash believes the museum can bring women of all nationalities together. ‘There’s a big community of foreigners and it’s not nice, or fair, for us not to know each other.’ The museum will be hosting an event on Wednesday March 5 as part of the Women’s Day celebrations that exhibits the contributions of women from overseas who have had an impact on UAE society.
The Museum reflects Emirati women’s achievements in society to date. Dr Ghubash hopes to see more in the future. ‘In the wider Arab region there are still many women who have a limited education. I’d like to see what we are enjoying here in the city be the same for those outside our borders.’
Dubai Women’s Museum. Sat-Thu 10am-7pm. Sikka 28, Gold Souk, Deira, www.womensmuseumuae.com (04 234 2342).
Women’s Day events
Thursday March 6
Female Focus Morning with Emirates Literature Festival
A collection of sessions and workshops discussing topics such as excelling in business, marriage and an inspiring talk about breast cancer survivors adventuring through Antarctica. Purchase tickets in advance online.
From Dhs60 for sessions. 10am-1.30pm. Intercontinental Hotel, Dubai Festival City, www.emirateslitfest.com (04 353 4002).
Saturday March 8
Ousha Bint Khalifa Al Suwaidi: ‘Girl of the Arabs’
Professor Ghubash in conversation with Khadija Al Marzooqi, presenting the life and work of the poet Ousha Bint Khalifa Al Suwaidi, one of Arab literature’s finest poets. Purchase tickets in advance online.
Dhs65. 11.30am-12.30pm. Intercontinental Hotel, Dubai Festival City, Dubai. www.emirateslitfest.com (04 353 4002).
Saturday March 8-Sunday March 9
WOIBEX Global Women’s leader Conference, Burj Al Arab
The conference offers an opportunity for businesswomen, and entrepreneurs to network. The Middle East Women Leaders Award Ceremony will also be held. To attend, register online.
From Dhs1,836. 8am-2pm. Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah, www.woibex.com (04 332 6688).