The Women’s Pavilion at Dubai’s Expo 2020 celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8 with a forum that highlighted the changes and challenges around gender equality in the United Arab Emirates and the world.
“I consider the enablement of women in a country with so many achievements is our greatest achievement,” Anwar Gargash, Advisor to the President of the UAE, said during the forum.
In partnership with Cartier, the Women’s Pavilion held its “Break The Bias” forum with an audience of more than 300 participants, including high-profile speakers from different countries, and fields, including business, politics, technology and the media.
Reem Al Hashimi, the UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation and the managing director of Expo, said the Women’s Pavilion welcomed more than 260,000 visitors and hosted some 170 events since the start of the fair in October. “I am proud that Expo 2020 Dubai has been awarded the prestigious Gender Equality European and International Standard in the context of a global mega-event.”
Among the other speakers at the forum were Sheikha Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Okonjo-Iweala emphasized the importance of working to advance the issue of women in trade. “International finance has to mobilize for gender equality and peace to happen,” added Kanem. In the UAE, Gargash said that women currently make up 60% of the federal government members and 50% of parliament. “The UAE has been successful in breaking a lot of glass ceilings through the activist agenda.”
The UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, made a surprise appearance in a video message, urging participants to take an all-of-society approach, working with men and boys, to help achieve gender equality.
The forum included a panel that discussed women’s role in the workplace, with some noting the success of women’s businesses during the pandemic, while recognizing the lack of women in leadership roles, with less than 10 percent of female CEOs worldwide. Speakers included Kristina Tsvetanova, CEO and founder of Blitab Technology, SAP Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Supriya Jha, Mastercard’s Vice President of People and Capability in the MENA Eleanor Cartwright, and UPS’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Laura Lane.
With the opening of the Meta office in Dubai, COO and founder of the Lean In foundation Sheryl Sandberg said the evolution of the Metaverse and the internet provided a better chance for women to succeed in business.
Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, former and first female government minister and the current president of the Zayed University, noted the increase in young women in Sharjah who are becoming astronauts. “A lot of the women I see today are my dreams from the seventies.”
The forum held a panel titled “Unstereotyping Women in Popular Culture,’’ which shone a light on the HeforShe movement that integrates men into the fight for equality. Tunisian and Egyptian actress Hend Sabry also highlighted the need to help ease women’s struggle to obtain equal rights in the film and media industries.
Actors Nadine Labaki, Dhafer L’abidine, Edgar Ramirez and Julie Gayet took part in the forum’s last session, The Next Generation of Changemakers. They relayed personal messages to the next generations of female actresses, each in their own language. Fatma Samoura, FIFA’s first-ever female secretary general, also joined the discussion to highlight the impact of gender equality in football, especially as the federation adds more women in leadership positions.
Cartier’s Cyrille Vigneron said that talks are underway to create a women’s pavilion at the next Expo 2025 in Osaka, Japan, leading the way for further improvements in gender equality initiatives within the international fair.
Attendees at the forum were supportive of the initiatives Expo had done for International Women’s Day. “I liked how the amazing, inspiring women speaking at the forum came from various fields talking about their own experiences,” stated Dr. Soumaya Askri, an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the De Montfort University Dubai, who has founded a Women Empowerment Hub at her university.
Expo 2020 continued the International Women’s Day celebrations at a ceremony in Al Wasl Dome, where speakers including Vigneron, Al Hashimi, and Oscar-winning American actor Rami Malek relayed the significance of achieving gender equality as soon as possible. “I hope that the work that is starting to be done leads us to a brighter and greater tomorrow,” said Malek.