"As the train arrived in Dubai’s metro station, people barged their way through the crowd, determined to get on the train, no matter how crowded it was. The line in the train cabin stating “Women and Children Only” separated the men from the ladies and children who were entitled the privilege of the spacious room that I was quite jealous of.
Admittedly, we had some initial misconceptions about the United Arab Emirates (UAE) propagated by the stereotypes about Muslim countries. Upon our arrival, the automated railway network, spectacular skyscrapers and grand malls instantly debunked many of our earlier beliefs of UAE’s economy. The unification of the seven independent emirates leading to a single federation of the UAE represents a convergence between the tradition and modernity of the Muslim world. Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, president of the UAE, once said, “Whoever has no past has neither present nor future”. UAE, with its lavish infrastructure and significant economic progress, still places great emphasis on religion and its rich historical past, and these continues to guide their way of life and the development of the society. These elements continue to have an influence on different aspects of society such as business practices, clothing, education, food, social interaction, values and beliefs. Diversifying away from oil towards sectors such as tourism, trade and financial sectors, UAE’s exponential economic growth over the last 10 years has been inspired by the UAE Vision 2020 guided by one of the founding fathers, His Highness Sheik Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the president of the UAE.
With widespread globalisation, UAE is one example that shows retaliation against the onslaught of foreign ideas by becoming more intensely protective of their own culture, religion and Emirati citizens. Amidst that, still managing to achieve a harmonious balance of different cultural and religious groups and their participation in the economy and society. With about 80% of its population being expatriates, the UAE government has found a need to provide support for the remaining 20% of its citizens for social, economic and political reasons through Emiratisation. From our visits, we realised that Emiratis have better treatment and hold high positions in many of the companies. In addition, Emirati women have made notable progress to match men in terms of political, cultural and economic clout in UAE. UAE has been lauded as a regional leader in championing gender equality, not only through empowering women but empowering its society through women. This was especially vivid during our visit to the Abu Dhabi university where we witnessed an exemplary presentation by a female student ambassador of the school, which made mention of women empowerment in UAE highlighting a few key female figures such as Dubai Abulhoul and Her Excellency Shamma bint Suhail Faris Al Mazrui. Equality between the gender has seen improvements across different cultures and beliefs, hoping that one day it will achieve the ideal union between the sexes, having both men and women recognised, not only at the battlefronts but also as councils of nations."
- A Reflection by Wilson Toh, Participant on the Overseas Study Mission (renamed ‘Overseas Experiential Learning’) to UAE in 2016