Emirati women have been recognized for their pivotal role in the community and their contribution to the development and advancement of the UAE on various areas and levels. Over the years, Emirati women have broken all sorts of barriers and have been triumphant in spreading awareness about sports, fitness and health. Emirati women are taking matters into their own hands and achieving the goals they set for themselves in an effort to inspire other young girls and women to do the same. Today (August 28) marks the 3rd Emirati Women’s Day, so here we feature some incredibly influential local women and their achievements in the fitness and sports industry
‘Make time for yourself, love your body, do everything you do with passion. If you do not like a sport, try another one”. Never give up is the message Amna Al Merri wants to convey to women. Al Merri- a 24 year old bioengineer by profession and certified gym trainer and weight-lifting instructor serves as an inspiration to all women. She works for the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) but her true passion lies in the women-only running club in Dubai which she founded along with her three friends. The running club provides free training to women of all nationalities to urge them to focus on their health and fitness. This love for physical fitness led to the creation of Anagow, which means “I am strong” in Arabic. Al Merri loved that her self-esteem and energy levels were boosted through exercising and wanted to inspire more Emirati women to start running and wanted to encourage them to be healthy. “We train with different running programmes, timing each member so that they can one day participate in the marathon. We use body weight to do weight-bearing exercises and many of our members are now participating in marathons,” said Al Merri.
Amal Mourad is one of the first female Emirati parkour coaches and calisthenics athlete in the Middle East. It can be overwhelming to start a new sport but she explains why she loves Parkour so much- “My favorite part of parkour is that you’re overcoming the obstacles that are in your head that you have created for yourself . When I first started practicing the sport it liberated me from a lot of things, I wasn’t afraid anymore, I wasn’t afraid of being who I really am, I wasn’t afraid of trying something new, I wasn’t afraid of what people thought about me, I wasn’t afraid to fall, I actually learned how to land”. As challenging as Parkour was she didn’t let it stop her.
On the other hand, coming from Abu Dhabi was a woman who defied all odds and chose to become a figure skater. “I’m covered, I’m Muslim, I’m from a desert country but I’m doing a winter sport and it’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with it.” Words spoken by Zahra Lari who is the first Emirati figure skater. Lari proves that there is nothing you can’t do when you put your mind to it. Being a hijabi or from a desert country did not stand in her way to achieve her dreams. She aspires to compete in the Winter Olympics and would be the first person to represent the UAE in such an event. Both women are prime examples of chasing your dreams and being able to compete and participate in sports even if they are outside your comfort zone.
Emirati women are constantly engaging in sports and fitness. The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio were especially momentous because Nada Al Bedwawi made history for not only being the youngest female to carry the UAE flag in the opening ceremony but also the for being the first female to represent the country in swimming. She was quoted as saying “It’s been a great honor to represent my country and, most importantly, represent the young Emirati girls, especially those who want to do sports.” Sexism is still prevalent in sporting events and Al Bedwawi is hoping that this perception will shift as more female athletes compete. “My main goal is to break down these barriers, these gender barriers, and pave the way for other female swimmers,” said Al Bedwawi after her 50m freestyle heat. “Especially in our country, people are reluctant to start something new.
Another female athlete breaking barriers is Ayesha Al Balooshi, an Emirati weightlifter. This was only the second time that a female weightlifter has represented the UAE, the other being Khadija Mohammed, who competed in London four years ago. Al Balooshi walked away proud saying “I achieved my Olympic goals, I walked behind the flag in the opening ceremony and proved that nothing is impossible for Emirati girls who can do wonders in all games.” As the women left the Olympics, they left with the hope that the games inspire more Emirati women to participate in sports and as Al Badwari says, “The dream is that when we return to the Olympics in four years time, we arrive with many more athletes — and especially more women.”
Besides the Olympics, here are a few Emirati females blazing a trail in their respective fields
- 15-year-old Alia Al Shamsi became the first female swimmer to fly the UAE flag in a competition when she swam the 50m and 100m breaststroke and 50m backstroke at the Arab Championships in Dubai.
- Track and field athlete Fatima Al Hosani won a silver medal in discus throw at the Asian Youth Athletics Championships in Doha.
- The UAE Cycling Federation formed a women’s national team in 2012 and their four-medal haul at the Arab Track Championships in Sharjah was an unprecedented feat for them.
This day is part of a bigger movement to increase female empowerment in the Middle East and there would be no women’s empowerment in the UAE without the critical support provided by the political leadership and so, we hope to see more Emirati women in sports paving the way to more success and bigger achievements.