Exclusive Interview: Hafsa Al Ulama, the UAE Ambassador to Brazil

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1)    Dear Ambassador, you are seen as a powerful and strong woman and a true inspiration for many women. Can you share with us a little bit of your professional history?

 I started my career many years ago in the field of banking. I was lucky I got a job at an international bank in Dubai, UAE, at Citibank. It was a true school and it taught me a lot in terms of management and leadership skills. From there I moved to a local bank where I was part of restructuring team. The bank went through transformation and today it is one of the strongest banks in the Middle East.

 I also had a chance to work in the Public Sector as director of Census for UAE in 2005. This broadened my understanding of management in Government entities. Then I had an opportunity to run an investment company in Abu Dhabi before becoming an Ambassador representing my country. So, I have been working for a long time! And I was fortunate to have had experience in both private and public sectors.

2)  Why is it important to talk about gender? Why does it matter to everyone?

 This is a good question. The straightforward answer is: because there still is a gender gap in our societies. Despite all the struggles over more than 100 years to gain equality in society and workforce, we still have a huge gap between men and women today.

For example, according to WEF, there are only 15 female leaders currently in office. That is less than 10% of UN member states. Of the S+P 500 companies, only 26 CEOs are women – that is a mere 5%!

Between 2010 and 2015, only 10% of Venture Capital around the world went to women.

This creates imbalance in society and leads to a situation of suboptimal development. Equality between the genders is not only relevant for women but it touches upon the core of society.

In my opinion, equality for women in work and pay unleashes a positive force and leads to progress of the whole society. In 21st Century we shouldn´t be even talking about this.

3)   How do you see women empowerment in the Middle East? Are there relevant initiatives that you would like to highlight?

 In general women in the Middle East suffer from inequality due to many factors: cultural, economic, and political. Unfortunately, their hardship is more profound than the situation of women in the developed countries. Many governments in the Middle East subjugate women to hardship and difficulties. They burden the responsibility to keep the family intact during difficult times.

However, not all is doom and gloom. I can talk about the experience of my country and where I think wisdom of leadership makes major difference in the Middle East. From the first days of establishment of UAE in late 1971, the emphasis was on inclusion of all members of society in the development of the young country. The single most important factor was education. The founder of our nation, Sheikh Zayed made sure that everyone should get free education, especially girls from young age. This is a case where the government is more progressive than families. Today we are seeing the results in all aspects of our society. 30% of our ministers are women. Over 20% of our Parliament is made of women deputies and we have the first woman president of Parliament in the Arab World. Women in the UAE are active in business and they participate in many fields from teachers to fighter jet pilots.

Recently, UAE has established the Gender Equality Council to ensure equal treatment of men and women in the workforce. My country has become a model for women in the rest of the Arab World.

4)  Would you like to leave a message for the Women Inside Trade in Brazil?

Women in Brazil should be proud of their contribution to the society. They are hardworking, diligent, and selfless. I see many examples of this every day. Sometimes, I feel the biggest obstacle for women is their self-confidence. We are often insecure and give up too easily, even when we have a point to make, we fall short of voicing our opinion. As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook says, we have to lean-in and stand up and be more vocal of what we want. Another advice that I think is important is to take risk and not be let down by failure.


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