All the smarts

A new book about the lives of Emirati women provides a unique insight into the achievements of the UAE’s female population

The work of the Swiss-French journalist and writer Kyra Dupont-Troubetzkoy spans 20 years and traverses a wide range of media from print journalism to film to fiction. But whether she is interviewing an Emirati opera singer or telling the story of a Cambodian orphan, one theme unifies her work: the triumph of the spirit over adversity. She loves to find the remarkable stories in ordinary lives and provide a platform for untold tales, so that stereotypes are challenged and perceptions shifted.

“I have interviewed famous people in politics and show business, but what I like the most is to tell about the lives of the unknown,” she says. “In everyone’s life, there is something exceptional that ought to be revealed.”

In her latest book, Women of the Emirates, who are these women behind their veil?, she talks to Emirati women to find out what drives them. Her profile of Sara Al Qaiwani, the UAE’s first female opera singer, reveals a woman forging a path in a profession previously unavailable to women in the Middle East, defying cultural norms to pursue her passion.

Ebtessam Al Badwawi
Ebtessam Al Badwawi, 31, is one of the first female judges in Dubai, and hopes to set an example for the next generation of female judges

Troubetzkoy has worked all over the world, from reporting in Phnom Penh to writing books in Paris, but in 2012 decided to settle in Dubai with her hus-
band because they wanted “to experience a life in the Middle East... it sounded fascinating”. “We heard so many things about Dubai and wanted to see it for ourselves, particularly because my interest for the unknown anchors me to this city,” she says.

When she came to Dubai and witnessed the mix of modernity and tradition, the cosmopolitan culture and the rapid economic growth, she was inspired to start a project about the Middle East and decided to embark on a blog chronicling experiences of Emirati women from all walks of life. The blog has turned into the aforementioned book with 11 chapters. It features 70 prominent Emirati women in different fields: politics, aviation, law, art, and sport. Her criteria for selecting her subjects were that they are successful role models for the next generation, they have achieved their dreams, and they have found a balance between modernity and tradition.

“I discovered that there was a political will to put them up at the forefront and that they were given the means to succeed; when I arrived, I opened the paper every day to read the story of one of them, so I decided I wanted to tell their journey and get to meet them to break all the stereotypes others may have towards them,” she says. “I discovered strong, open women, flattered that I was interested in them – so smart, well-educated and ambitious.”

Saira Al Qaiwani
Saira Al Qaiwani is Dubai’s first professional opera singer

A recent study by Harvard Business School ranked the UAE as highest in treating women with respect and it is no wonder: they are accomplished for their own standards, but more importantly they are involved in key decision-making processes as their country matures. “They are doing better than the French, with 22 per cent of women participating in the National Federal Council,” says Troubetzkoy. “I am impressed by the fact that they manage to lead a unique way of life between tradition and modernity.”

She decided to publish the book in French because an in-depth book on Arab women doesn’t exist in her native country, with current research patchy and outdated.

“There are so many stereotypes associated with women in the region and I wanted to get to know first-hand: are they really empowered? I discovered that they are not only well-educated, which contributes to the fast-changing economy, but they voice their opinions openly in a smart way. They revolutionised their way of thinking and made changes without a revolution.”