Females' vital part in UAE culture

Women's Museum seeks to showcase rich heritage

GMT 14:55 2013 Thursday ,20 June

Arab Today, arab today Women's Museum seeks to showcase rich heritage

Women's Museum in Dubai is a private museum opened in 2012
Dubai - Arab Today

Women's Museum in Dubai is a private museum opened in 2012 The Women's Museum in Dubai — one of only four in the world which focus on women's heritage — is calling on both tourism operators and schools to make more of an effort to share the rich heritage of women in the UAE to visitors and the new generation alike.
The private museum opened in December last year, and while many women's groups, friends and students of public universities in the city had come to visit, tourism groups and Arabic school students had not, founder Dr Rafia Obaia Ghubash said.
"We have put pressure on tourist groups, but none will come they say ‘it takes time for people to read, we want a quick tour. We just want to see a gold souk'.”
She said the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commercial Marketing wanted to help, but had little control over the many operators.
"Their business is to sell visas, bring these people and give them a tour and that's it.
"(Tour companies) (intentions) are not for people to learn about the country they are visiting.
"They're private (companies)...we can't force them. But this is a different level of tourist activity — it's to offer knowledge and a very high standard way of displaying knowledge.
"It even affects the psychology of the (team)...if you work here and in 10 days you get no visitors, maybe just one or two.”
Ghubash, who has a PhD in epidemiological psychiatry from London University and was president of Arabian Gulf University from 2001 to 2009, also wants the educational curriculum to incorporate the heritage of Arab women into their syllabuses.
She said there had been a lot of interest from young Emirati women from the local universities, who typically showed three emotions when they arrived:
"Happiness and excitement, and then anger — why don't they have the chance to learn their history within the school curriculum? Within our curriculum there is nothing about our history or our women.”
Associate professor in political science at United Arab Emirates University, Dr Maryam Lootah, said while things were "starting to change”, there was little information about the history of the state or society in the curriculum, and when women were mentioned their role was not considered important.
"We teach UAE society, and there's no mention (of the important role of women)...women were just in the house. This is one of the reasons (Ghubash) insisted on having this museum — to give real information for the new generation who don't see their grandmother (in this way), and to give the foreigner the exact image about women (in the country).”
The Minister of Education Humaid Mohammed Obaid Al Qattami has been invited to view the museum, and they would do their best to try and encourage changes to the curriculum, she said.
The museum, which is the first women's museum in the Arab world, was funded by Ghubash without any private or government investment. Ghubash, who grew up in the Old Gold Souk neighbourhood, bought the piece of land, located in Deira, six years ago and began the project to preserve the cultural history of the area.
"The whole idea was to create a cultural activity in this region because this is the heart of Dubai, but people forget this area so I wanted to bring them back here with is sad this (local) generation is's a normal process, but it does have psychological effects on us.”
The land was where a house she remembered from her childhood had been known as Bait Al Banat, (The Girls House), which housed three unmarried women.
"They were called girls...right up to the age of 70.
"This triggered the idea to make it a women's museum.”
She visited another women's museum in Copenhagen in 2006, but found it "totally different to what I had in my mind”.
"I'm here to show the positive aspect of our history...there it seemed to be women fighting with men... it was the history of war between men and women.
"My feeling of freedom is inside me. It's not up to the government or men to give it to me.”
The museum foregrounds the political, economic and intellectual achievements of women, rather than just what people first assumed it would be about — perfume, makeup and clothes, she said.
Donated artefacts include photos from those living in the area and the first lady photographer in the souk area, a series of passports from the 1950s until present, showing how women were able to read and write contrary to many expectations, and land documents showing how women bought and sold land, and had businesses, from as early as the late 1940s and 1950s. The progress of education is illustrated, beginning with the first Dubai girls school which opened in 1958, where enrolments were dismal until the late His Highness Sheikh Rashid Saeed Al Maktoum sent his daughter Shaikha Hessa, which saw enrolments soar to 490 that year.
Meanwhile in 1967, girls at the Khadija School were excluded from admission if they were too tall, until a local Shaikha protested. The exhibition also illustrates how many women from the 1950s onwards started construction companies, dealt in real estate and ran taxi companies — all from their homes.
The second floor includes a women's studies centre, featuring walls covered with bookcases full of literature written by Emirati women, and a gallery featuring local and international work by both men and women.
Ghubash is currently negotiating for more space to expand the museum, as well as working on an encyclopaedia of women's stories from around the region, including those working in "more modern careers like IT and engineering”, for which she "knocked on 800 doors” to find 300 subjects.
Source: Khaleej Times

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