UNITED ARAB EMIRATES 2006-2012
INSIGHT DUBAI AND WOMEN AS GLOBAL LEADERS CONFERENCES
Reflections and Photos by Dr. Deniz
Zeynep Leuenberger and Participating Public Administration and Political Science
Insight Dubai 2007
Reflections on Insight Dubai 2007 by
Michelle Bohler, Graduate Student, Public Administration
On April 6th, six Bridgewater State College students, both graduate and
undergraduate, and one professor packed up and headed for the Insight Dubai
Conference in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The week long conference
provided an opportunity to meet women from all over the globe, learn about
the culture and complexities of a very unique country and form friendships
that will not easily be forgotten.
This trip came to be through the efforts of Dr. Deniz Leuenberger and the
experience of her undergraduate, Fall 2006 class Urban Politics. This class
participated in a monumental project to connect students from Bridgewater
State College with students of the Dubai Women’s College. Through video
conferencing and online communication, students worked on issues of
sustainability completing papers such as “Immigration in the United States
and the United Arab Emirates” and “Airport and the Impact on the
This project also involved Dr. Leuenberger’s graduate class, Managerial
Economics and Urban Development. The graduate class was responsible for
evaluating the utilization of technology for the project, but also enjoyed
watching the project and students evolve. The graduate students were
impressed at the way relationships developed and how well the students
utilized technology to develop worthy research papers.
The history of the United Arab Emirates and the development of Dubai may be
a necessary side point here as it plays a role in the complexities the
country faces. The UAE is located on the Persian Gulf to the east of Saudi
Arabia and to the northwest of Oman. The country’s landscape is the Arabian
Desert which stretches from border to border. Water is obtained through
desalinization plants and it can go an entire year without any rain.
However, if one is in downtown Dubai, with beautiful fountains, and rows of
flowering petunias, you would never realize you were in a desert. The amount
of growth and development in Dubai in the past 30 years has taken it from an
underdeveloped country with mud huts to a cutting edge city with some of the
most modern and architecturally unique building is the world. These changes
to the landscape, the shift to an urban culture and the influence of western
businesses are some of the points adding complexity to this region.
Fast forward to April of 2007, the Dubai Women’s College was hosting Insight
Dubai. In its third year, the conference is intended to bring together
women, student leaders from around the globe. This year’s conference
provided representation from 22 countries. Fifty international women and
fifty women from the Dubai Women’s College converged on the campus for a
week of cultural awareness, discussion, friendship building and learning.
After arriving on Saturday morning and spending the day exploring the Gold
Suque in downtown Dubai, we were finally able to check into the UAE Youth
Hostel. It was not the smoothest operation, but we were finally all settled
into rooms with our respective roommates. A good night sleep and we were
ready for the first day!
Sunday was an acclimation day. Shuttled from the hostel to the college on
buses, we arrived in the morning to meet with our “buddies” and find our
discussion groups for the week. Each international woman was paired with a
woman from the UAE. The morning of the first day was spent touring the
campus with our “buddies” and getting to know each other. It was a very
After lunch we had an opening presentation including an original film by
Nayla Al Khaja titled “Unveiling Dubai.” This presentation served a duel
purpose of demystifying Dubai through the travels of a young German tourist
and presented the chance to see the opportunities women can have in the UAE.
Ms. Al Khaja is a woman who is starting her own business and hopes to be a
leader in the field, making an impact on lives around her.
Each day of the conference had a theme. A topic would be discussed in our
groups and then opened up to the conference at large. In addition, there
would be a speaker to add additional insight to the topic. These topics
ranged from “How do women in your country promote peace” to quota systems to
Shari’ah Law to the Arabic governance system.
Discussions of peace and the woman’s role in this process included
identifying women from different regions of the world who were promoting
peace through their activities. Consideration of how women everywhere can
influence the peace process ranged from educating their children to gaining
representation in positions of power.
This discussion naturally led to the idea of quota systems. Are quotas
necessary in order to get women into those positions of power? Are there
barriers to women achieving success? If a quota system was implemented, what
would that system look like? These questions were posed and addressed with a
lively debate by the supporters and those opposed to a quota system. This
discussion also allowed for a picture of successful women across the globe,
those who succeeded without the help of quotas such as Wangari Mathi in
Kenya, Condoleeza Rice or Nancy Pelosi in the US, Nayla Al Khaja from the
UAE and so on.
Shari’ah Law was the next topic. After a presentation by Ammar Shams and
Shuroooq Zainal on inheritance law, we separated into our groups to discuss
a mock court case. Shari’ah Law is Islamic law intended to deal with family
and criminal issues (a separate court system is often used for commercial
considerations). These laws are derived from the Qur’an and very specific in
their nature. While very specific, there are also groups of specialists that
can be called together to discuss the application and interpretation of the
laws in this ever changing world.
Ammar Shams was invited back the following day to discuss the Arabic
governance system and nationalization. The UAE is a very unique country in
that it is an Islamic country ruled by Sheikhs who receive their position
through inheritance. Each emirate has a Sheikh, with the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi
being the president of the country and the Sheikh of Dubai serving as the
This structure is not the only unique consideration for the UAE. More
intriguing is the fact that 70 percent of the population is expatriates or
foreigners. Therefore the 30 percent of the population that are Nationals
are constantly struggling to maintain their culture, traditions, and
identity in their country where they are a minority. This introduces even
more complexity when one considers representation. If the country was fully
representative, the UAE would be a different place. Therefore, as the
government introduces aspects of a representative government in the newly
elected Federal National Council (FNC), it still only represents 30 percent
of the population. The alternative is the loss of a culture.
While we did focus on all of these topics, there was plenty of time for fun
and cultural immersion as well. Each evening included trips such as Heritage
Village with a brief boat ride on the Dubai Creek, a desert safari with
SUV’s speeding over sand dunes and a party in the desert with camel rides,
henna, dinner and music. A trip to the Jumeirah Mosque and an opportunity to
meet the Sheikha of Ajman were notable events.
These events demonstrated traditions of the UAE. We explored the role the
desert, falcons and camels played on the not so distant past. We enjoyed
traditional dishes and offered our hands as a canvas for henna, a
traditional artwork that acts like a temporary tattoo. The Jumeirah Mosque
allowed a glimpse into the traditions and pillars of Islam as well as the
peaceful intent of the religion.
The events of the week were enlightening, fun and educating. While all of
the experiences mentioned above were engaging, the most powerful experience
might have been the opportunity to meet and become friends with women from
all over the globe; to discuss honestly the way we live, the feelings and
misconceptions that exist, and the opportunity to find similarities in our
differences. This is what provided the most insight and contributed to the
overall positive experience.
*These papers can be viewed at
Women as Global Leaders Conference
2006 Abu Dhabi-U.A.E.
I would like to share some of my photos and
experiences from the 2006 Women
as Global Leader's Conference in Abu Dhabi. The conference was sponsored by
Reflection on Women as Global Leaders Conference
in the United Arab Emirates - Dr. Deniz Leuenberger, Assistant Professor in
the Department of Political Science at Bridgewater State College, visited
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates during Spring Break to present at the Women
as Global Leaders Conference: Communities in Transition from March 12 to
March 14, 2006. She presented on caring labor and the measurement of the
labor of care in non-profit and government organizations. Her trip was
sponsored by The Center for Legislative Studies and Bridgewater State
College. Major speakers at the conference included Queen Rania Al-Abdullah
of Jordan, Mary Robinson, former prime minister of Ireland and United
Nations High Commissioner, and Cherie Booth, British Attorney and the wife
of England’s Prime Minister Blair. Students, faculty, and professionals for
87 countries gathered to discuss issues relevant to women. Presentations
included discussion of human rights issues, democratization, expanding role
of women in the work place, the role of education in expanding the
participation of women, and international impacts of governmental policies.
Dr. Leuenberger discovered as a theme in the conversation of women from the
Middle East, including U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, and
Jordan, a desire to increase women’s equity in the context of their national
traditions, religion, and identities. They reported a desire to increase
women’s role outside of the influence of Western ideas of democratization.
The setting of the conference was at the Emirates Palace, a seven star hotel
in Abu Dhabi. This is the second year of the conference and the conference
will be held every two years from this year forward. The conference hosts
from Zayed University, an all women’s government university, were very
willing to share information about the culture and the history of the U.A.E.
The U.A.E. has expanded from fishing, ranching, and pearling economy to an
economy based on oil production. Currently the country is working to
diversify its economic interests.
This is a photo of the Emirates Palace in
Adu Dhabi, the seven star hotel in which the conference was held. The hosts
of the conference, Zayed University and their students were very gracious.
The university is an all girls school named after Sheik Zayed, a founding
father of the nation and much revered leader. The program of events was
amazing, with speakers including Queen Rania of Jordan, Mary Robinson, the
former prime minister of Ireland, and Cherie Booth, the wife of the United
Kingdoms Prime Minister Blair. There were speakers, presenters, and
attendees from 87 countries. The unique aspect of the conference is its
focus on women students.
The conference speakers presented in the
Emirates Palace Auditorium. Break out sessions were held in rooms all over
the palace, with topics including human rights, workplace development for
women, caring labor, teaching with empathy, technological developments
affecting women across the world, as well as many other topics. The
presentations were by students, by professionals, and by academics from many
countries. The presentations discussed a variety of international issues.
Students from Zayed University also presented a history of the UAE with a
focus on its development from a fishing, pearling, and ranching economy to a
modern economic system originally based on the oil industry and now moving
toward increased economic diversity.
This is a photo of the beach
surrounding the palace. The water is clear and turquoise. Because of Islamic
women's use of veiling for modesty, I was told there are special beaches for
women and children. This beach is affiliated with the hotel and may have
other rules and practices. All are welcome to view the ocean and walk along
the sand and many of us, from all backgrounds, took advantage of this
opportunity. Women are not required to veil in the UAE, but all women,
including visitors should dress conservatively. Most of the young women who
are nationals of the UAE wear a black robe and black scarf that covers all
but their faces. The women wear their scarves in very stylish ways and wear
traditional clothing under this outer garment. The scarves are sometimes
very colorful and beautiful as well, apparently based on individual choice.
Men from the UAE generally wear white robes and a white headdress with a
black headband. (I have not placed photos of individuals on this site out of
respect of traditions of some cultural preferences by women across the world
who prefer not to have their picture taken and/or shared.)
The gardens are full of fountains and beautiful
marble architecture. We spent time sitting among the fountains and had
wonderful conversations. One of the common themes of women I talked to from
the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Yemen, and Saudia Arabia was that the
desire to develop women's equity within the traditions of each country. The
women voiced that they prefered to resolve problems within their own
countries outside of the assistance of Western influenced democratic
Three views from inside the Emirates
Palace. This is a setting meant for celebration. Not all persons living in
the UAE apparently enjoy this level of luxury. Nationals of the UAE do enjoy
no income taxes, federally provided education, and free health care.
Nationals apparently generally have a high standard of living. They comprise
about 25% of the population of the country. Due to rapid development, there
has been a need for the import of labor. Immigrant workers make up about 75%
of the population.
Delegates stayed in different hotels.
There were over 1000 participants.
Some views of the front of the palace. Clearly there are some wonderful
places to visit in Abu Dhabi. This conference, of course, was meant to
celebrate women's leadership and sponsors invested a great deal in being
good hosts. The country is quickly changing and developing and Zayed
University members report that the leadership of UAE has invested and
continues to invest in women's education and development.
I hope you found the pictures from the
conference interesting. Apparently the conference will be held every two
years is the UAE. Please visit the conference webpage for more information,
including information on speakers, presentations, the hosts, and the
Submitted by Dr.
Deniz Leuenberger- Bridgewater State Univerity Department of Political Science. Participation in this conference by Dr. Leuenberger was
funded by Bridgewater State University and Bridgewater State University's Center
for Legislative Studies. She presented on the measurement of caring labor in
the context of governments and non-profits at the conference. You may
contact Dr. Leuenberger at firstname.lastname@example.org