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‘Can a woman who wears a hijab lead effectively?’: How Emirati engineer and artist Maryam AlBalooshi proved critics wrong – News


Published: Tue Dec 19, 2023 9:32 PM

Last update: Tue Dec 19, 2023 9:34 PM

What did childhood mean to the Emirati women who now represent modern UAE society? A society in which women are equal stakeholders in social, cultural and economic progress. Ask Maryam Ali AlBalooshi and she’ll probably tell you it was normal, if not easy. It was not easy because there were fewer examples of female achievements. Today, it is women like Maryam who have become the faces of women’s empowerment in the region, trailblazers playing not one but many roles.

Maryam, Senior Climate Change Negotiator for the Aviation Sector, is an accomplished author who has written seven books so far and a calligraphy artist who has worked with some of the region’s leading brands. “We didn’t have much entertainment growing up,” recalls Maryam, who studied chemical engineering. “So we focus on working hard and doing something for ourselves, one reason why you’ll find a lot of women of my generation who are leaders or founders of companies that are relatively new.”

A woman in the climate dialogue

COP28, hosted by the United Arab Emirates this month, has become a topic of global conversation about the milestones achieved in terms of climate change dialogue. But for people like Maryam, the call came long before the urgency of the crisis was felt so widely. She has been working for the International Civil Aviation Organization, a specialized United Nations agency that charts guidelines for industry growth, and has been an important figure in providing information on how aviation impacts the climate. “I’ve been a COP expert for almost a decade,” she laughs. “When I started, weather wasn’t even on the agenda. People didn’t really understand what our real objective was. But now it’s different.”

Maryam adds that the energy and aviation sectors have been the true backbone of the economy and addressing climate issues in these sectors at a global level requires a lot of understanding and learning. “To be someone involved in climate change internationally, you need to understand the perspectives that the 196 countries are coming from. When you talk to Latin America, it’s different than when you talk to someone from Asia, Europe. “There has to be a bottom-up and top-down approach in addressing these issues.” Which also raises an obvious question: What unique perspectives do women bring to the climate change dialogue? The dominant narrative holds that women’s role as caregivers naturally draws them into this dialogue more intimately. But trailblazers like Maryam are quick to point out that this has a lot to do with the unconditional professionalism that women bring to this conversation.

“Women are perfectionists and we work hard. For example, my colleagues had the opportunity to watch me work on a climate negotiation project and saw me spend hours on it. In fact, the boys told me that they cannot be so patient and work tirelessly,” says Maryam. “Women have the mind to analyze and connect things. I’m not sure if it’s a social aspect, but we feel a greater need to prove ourselves. All the women who work in this space have a common thread: empowerment through education.”

What Maryam doesn’t say, and what is easy to infer from her conversations, is also how leaders like her bring a more balanced and nuanced view on the topic. For example, aviation is an international sector and has its own complexity. “People have often criticized us for not doing it well enough, but aviation is doing more than expected. We work on a global scale. And that is why you cannot work within the borders of a country and leave the region, in general, out of the spotlight. The United Arab Emirates has one of the largest aviation sectors in the world, so every move must be considered. Some aspects can hold you back but others can help you move forward. Economic aspects must also be at the forefront. So, as she sees, you can’t just move aggressively on climate change without understanding what could happen.”

There is quite a bit of truth in that statement. Aviation is about connectivity. “Today, if we had the highest numbers for a COP event, it was thanks to advances in aviation. If strict restrictions are imposed, we would create a model of environmentalism that does not take into account the economic factor,” he states.

“There are many challenges when working on this issue, but that is not an excuse not to work on it at all.”

An avid calligrapher and writer.

A calligraphy in Diwani font in which the words reflect Maryam's thoughts about coffee.

A calligraphy in Diwani font in which the words reflect Maryam’s thoughts about coffee.

Clarity of vision aside, being a woman in a leadership position in the field is not without its challenges. Maryam herself remembers a moment in 2015 when she was told that she would become a celebrity just because of the job she had. She couldn’t disagree more, but his statement led her to do some soul-searching and led her to focus on the artist that resided inside her. “People know me not only as a climate change negotiator or politician. These titles are temporary. I have also dedicated myself to calligraphy and writing. In fact, these are the moments that bring me immense relief. Whether it is my writing or my art, there is a storyteller in me,” she says.

Today, many of his calligraphy projects involve working with international names such as Van Cleef or BMW. A recent project showcased his work in Brazil, a calligraphy in Diwani font in which the words reflect his thoughts on coffee and how he connects with people in different ways. “I was three or four years old when a cousin gave me a calligraphy practice book. Even before I learned the alphabets, I fell in love with them. I would spend hours copying them.”

Books written by Maryam

Books written by Maryam

As an artist and writer, her works, over time, have begun to delve deeper into psychology and philosophy. “My last book was published in Arabic and English and had philosophical perspectives on life. I’m trying to write a novel, but it will take its own course. I want to write in a way that readers feel that I am talking to them, that there is a message for them,” says AlBalooshi, who will speak on a special panel at next year’s edition of the Emirates Airline Literature Festival on Arabic calligraphy. .

Some time ago, when Maryam started her job, she was told something she is less likely to forget. “Can a woman who wears a hijab lead effectively?” A decade and several milestones later, Maryam has proven her critics wrong with a canvas that continues to expand. “We have been raised to represent our values ​​even internationally. The reason my generation is so respected is because we have been given the power of a good education. Those who were once skeptical of me have now become my closest friends,” she says. “People will always respect you for your mind.”


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