The Panel Meet

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  • Shaikha Ebrahim Al Mutawa, Madhu Arora, H.E. Dr. Maryam Matar, Isobel Abulhoul

  • Nadia Rahman, Madhu Arora

Ever since the launch of the magazine in June 2014, we have featured some of the most inspiring women from around the world. From film directors in Saudi Arabia to robotic engineers in the United States, from cancer survivors and those who support them to the ones that make it their mission to break the glass ceiling, from space travellers, to war reporters, philanthropists, dancers, comedians, entrepreneurs, business tycoons, media moguls, sports people, beauty queens, fashionistas, doctors and designers, we have unearthed new heroes, dug into their journeys and shared their vision with you, our readers. Through all of their stories and interviews, indomitable spirit, never say die attitude, the will to persevere and unshakable faith were brought forward, through which we realised the importance of new role models to inspire generations to come. And this led to us hosting the Femina Middle East 1st Anniversary Celebration last June, where we felicitated 12 unstoppable women for their achievements across the fields of fashion design, media, sports, government sector, finance, the arts and many more.

Since then, with the magazine growing in leaps and bounds, it only seemed fitting to host, for the first time ever in the region, the Femina Middle East Women Awards. The challenge was daunting. Having to whittle the list of unstoppable women from the region to find the most deserving was a task we had to face head on.

And so, to provide much needed assistance and guidance, we began the process with selecting the women that would form our panel. A group of exceptional ladies who came from diverse backgrounds, nationalities and experience levels, were brought together to dive into their wealth of knowledge and expertise. This trove of insight led to the selection and nomination of the women that were awarded.

Shaikha Ebrahim Al Mutawa, Madhu Arora, H.E. Dr. Maryam Matar, Isobel Abulhoul


Nadia Rahman, Madhu Arora


This story talks about these panel members. The women that offered their expertise and suggestions to help us define what makes a winner. These discussions culminated at a high tea held at Manzil Downtown Dubai over an intimate setting at the Arabian Courtyard with delectable bites and a wide variety of tea and coffee. The final list of awardees was presented to the panellists and a discussion about how the awards ceremony can be more inclusive with a wider scope of nominees to create a bigger platform was discussed.

The next issue of Femina ME will feature the dynamic women that were awarded at the Femina Middle East Women Awards 2016 and talk about their achievements and what makes them unstoppable.


Her Excellency Dr. Maryam Matar

Founder and Head of the UAE Genetic Diseases Association

A scientist par excellence, a soft spoken but determined leader, Her Excellency Dr. Maryam Matar epitomizes the unstoppable Emirati woman. She is the founder and head of the UAE Genetic Diseases Association through which she has spread awareness against the risk of genetic diseases and specifically Thalassemia that touches 1/12th of Emirati citizens. She has also been the General Director of the Community Development Authority (CDA), the Dubai Government authority that takes responsibility for setting up and developing frameworks for social development in accordance with the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015 as declared by H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the UAE. And the Founder and Executive Director of two non-government and non-profit organizations – the UAE Down’s Syndrome Association and the UAE Genetic Diseases Association involving families from 17 different nationalities.

Before joining CDA, Dr. Matar became the first Emirati woman to assume the responsibilities of Under Secretary of the Ministry of Health where she led and supervised a number of initiatives designed to make Primary Health Care (PHC) programs available to the biggest share of population in the Northern Emirates, taking the number of overall PHC facilities in the UAE from 52 to 97. In 2005, she was the leader of the executive team dedicated to research key social development issues as described in the ‘Dubai Strategic Plan (2008-2015).

What does Femina Middle East mean to you?
It means everything for a successful woman who needs to be recognized in a different way.

What makes you Unstoppable?
My mother. I completely idolize her.

What was your criterion for choosing women for the awards?
The Femina ME Women Awards 2016 has a selection of deserving and enterprising women from the United Arab Emirates and outside. I am looking forward to include and nominate more women within various categories as the years go by. Women with special needs will be recognized alongside ordinary women. One important category that we need to address is this group of women who have been a tremendous help to all Emirati women over the years. I am talking about the nannies who have helped our mothers and today, help us raise our children and look after our families. They too need to be recognized for their contribution. They are the support system that have helped us women, go ahead and explore their dreams. They need to be acknowledged and awarded alongside these dynamic women who have conquered their spaces in the world outside. We also need to recognize the gentlemen who have been a great support to all the women who have pursued their dreams and made them a reality.

How have women broken the glass ceiling in this country?
Thanks to our gentlemen leaders, we never had to break the glass ceiling. Through their constant support and
encouragement, instead of us breaking the glass ceiling, the whole ceiling was taken away very gently without any casualty.

What were your thoughts on the panel meet?
The high tea gathering for the Femina ME Women Awards 2016 was very unique, especially with the discussion of our list of winners, at Manzil Downtown Dubai. I especially loved the quality of the tea. It perfectly complemented the quality of our women.



Isobel Abulhoul

CEO & Trustee, Emirates Literature Foundation and Festival Director

Isobel-AbulhoulIsobel has been in the UAE since 1968 and went on to become the co-founder of Magrudy’s, a bookshop chain, in 1975. But that did not suffice her passion for the written word, and in 2008, Isobel founded the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, popularly considered the Middle East’s largest celebration of the written and spoken word.

What does Femina ME mean to you?
I think it’s great to have this kind of a magazine that publishes such wonderful articles. I know you have been in production in India for a very long time, and really helping women in achieving their dreams by carrying on the baton here in the Middle East. Moreover, I believe that leading by example, both parents must instill in their children respect for men and women alike. Value women; value men; value everyone.

What makes you Unstoppable?
I’m not sure if I am unstoppable but I think if I can be in my bonnet and do something that can make the world a better place, and then I will be unstoppable. I am a steam-roller and like to take as many people with me as possible on that journey. I do have a huge amount of passion beating in my heart and particularly for the cause of reading for pleasure.

As a panel member what was your criteria while selecting the women for the felicitation?
I think all the women I have selected for awards are all unstoppable in their own fields. Some of them are unsung heroes, some of them are well known, but all of them are passionate about their cause and making the world a better place.

How have women in the region broken the glass ceiling in your field of expertise?
In terms of literature reading, I think women hugely dominate it. Honestly, all of the women I interact with on a daily basis are not aware of any glass ceiling. Where is it? We haven’t come into touch with it yet!

Who is your role model and why?
My eldest daughter, Dr. Lara Hamda Abulhoul, is my role model. She’s a pediatrician who has dedicated her life to helping children to get better. She is such a perfect human being with huge amount of generosity, humour, humanity and the sincere drive to help children.

What were your thoughts on the panel meet?
It was the loveliest high tea! I originally come from Cambridge, England and we are absolute fans of afternoon tea but this one at Manzil Downtown Dubai was with a slight twist. We had everything from karak tea to scones. It was a beautiful setting and a lovely evening.



Shaikha Ebrahim Al Mutawa

Innovation and Tourism Expert, Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing

With more than 15 years experience in marketing, sustainability and events management field, Shaikha has organized more than 80 tourism events and has served as committee chairman for: The National Day Celebrations and Dubai Summer Surprises.

What does Femina ME mean to you?
Femina Middle East is a platform for women. It is a magazine that features unstoppable women who have inspired young readers, as they look up to these women, while setting their eyes on their goals. I believe whenever a woman needs some inspiration she reads Femina Middle East.

What makes you unstoppable?
I believe I am beyond who I am. I am an individual with a clear mission in my life. For me progress means life and success is feeling fulfilled in the various realms of my life. Since 2001 I have been working in different fields of expertise – From tourism initiatives to humanitarian social initiatives. If I can do it, you all can do it too. My determination and contribution to build my community and nation is beyond limits; the story started before 1971 when our extraordinary leaders (Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum) taught us how to be united and how we can build a country where over 200 nationalities live in harmony.

As a panel member what was your criteria while selecting the women for the felicitation?
We all look up to women who have walked that extra mile. While selecting the awardees I looked out for them with a bird’s eye view – what they are doing, what’s their purpose in life as a mother, wife, and career or as a social activist. I believe so that when we recognize a woman we are rewarding a flagship that is going to influence others to do more. Basically we are awarding the authenticity with which they have served their communities arising from the values they resonate with and act on.

How have women broken the glass ceiling in your field of expertise?
A woman is made from very unique genes. She strives to give, provide and nurture those around her, in the process at times forgetting herself. Glass is just a perception, and women go beyond in spite of meager resources. If anybody places a glass ceiling above your head we women must ask them to not project their fears on it and try to limit us.

Who is your role model?
I’ve had multiple role models and I’ve learnt from each of them. From amongst the many women who have had an impression on me, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s mother Sheikha Salma bint Butti Al Hamed, is one. She, in her subtle ways, taught our late President and the nation to unite, cooperate and be determined to follow our dreams. She, in fact, laid the foundation for a united Arab nation. She taught me to see the unseen.

Another woman who has had a lasting impression on me has been my mother, Sultana Abdullah. Sultana means queen and she’s a queen for me. She has a unique role in helping me become who I am today. Being raised in an educated family, my parents have been my role models.

For example, my mother, in her late 50s’ decided to peruse her education with my father’s support. And that’s a small example of how the women are empowered in the UAE. We read and know about a lot of women from the Western world, but we all need a local hero to identify with. My mother is that hero for me. She taught me to be self-appreciative and recognize ones own worth, because we become who we are by doing what we are meant to do.

Yet another woman who has influenced me is Sheikha Hind bint Maktoum bin Juma Al Maktoum, wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai – an extremely visionary and humble women.

What were your thoughts on the panel meet?
It was wonderful to have the Femina ME Women Awards panel meet at Manzil Downtown Dubai. It was superb! The location was cozy and professional and the hospitality service was excellent. I think anyone looking for an innovative experience should visit the hotel.



Nadia Rahman

Associate Professor, Zayed University

Nadia Rahman is a broadcast television professional and a filmmaker. Prior to joining Zayed University as a faculty member and Director of the Zayed University Media Institute, she worked as a broadcast journalist for 10 years.

What does Femina ME mean to you?
A celebration of womenhood in all its forms.

What makes you Unstoppable?
What makes me unstoppable is curiosity. I always have been fascinated by human-interest stories, especially in dynamic settings, which is why I entered the field of media. It is important to be curious about one’s own self and story and understanding it well because that is the lens through which we see the world. Of course ‘story’ has many angles, perspectives and details. It is endless how one can build a story. What is most important is to build an accurate and truthful one regardless of what the subject maybe because a ‘story’ is powerful.

As a panel member what was your criteria while selecting the women for the felicitation?
I think every woman should be celebrated! The women that caught my eye are ones that chose a path less travelled, not because it is controversial or cool but because they had to. The road less travelled may be exciting, but often it is scary, difficult and lonely. Unfortunately, at times, one does not have a choice or is propelled to take that direction to complete a chapter within her own story. The beautiful thing is, often, it does lead to some sort of transcendence for herself and/or others. The transcendence may only be the journey itself and that is good enough.

How have women in the region broken the glass ceiling in your field of expertise?
As a Palestinian, growing up in America, I saw women like, Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian spokeswoman, take the television screens by a storm and shatter the glass ceiling of media spokespeople. She was a force to contend with because she knew her self and her country’s story. Dr. Ashrawi was very powerful in conveying a truth that the audience was not ready to hear. She was bold, proud and unstoppable in telling the Palestinian narrative in a truthful, compelling, and consistent fashion. Hanan inspired women of my generation to enter the media and play a role in this powerful field. In the 90s, there were a hand full of Palestinian women that managed to work their way into senior positions in international media organizations in West Jerusalem, while living under occupation and they made a huge contribution as journalists. They presented perspectives on stories, across the Middle East, that were not being covered.

Who is your role model and why?
My role models continually change and as I get older, they get younger. I feel privileged to be able to teach young Emirate women, who are naturally very creative. I look to them and to my eleven-year-old daughter, Zaina, to see how they are designing their goals, their dreams and executing them. They are empowered and full of hope and that is magical and contagious. I see them, in the span of four years, flourish from students into colleagues with a more digitally evolved skill set. Young women here and in the region believe they have a large role to play and they are doing it on a global scale.



Madhu Arora

Managing Director, Saffron Media Works

madhuEnterprising, pioneering and compassionate, Madhu Arora is the Managing Director of Saffron Media Works, an operationally independent media house based in Dubai. Under its umbrella, Filmfare ME, Femina ME, Saffron- The Society Insider and Salt n Peppa have thrived to become leading publication in the region. The media house also has Event Management and Public Relations wings.

What does Femina Middle East mean to you?
After venturing into the world of publishing, launching a product that defined the empowerment of women was very important to me and my focus has been very strong with it. I think that the last one and a half years has shown how the product has grown, with a team that I put together to build the platform. The kind of women that we have featured in the magazine, with regards to content generation, also speaks volumes for the vision I had for the magazine. I always wanted the magazine to be a voice for the region and for women who reside here, grew up here, have led a life here and have a story to tell. Women to whom unstoppable is everything.

What does unstoppable mean to you?
For me, unstoppable is running till you are able to achieve your goals. And at every phase, your goal changes because you only aspire for more, so unstoppable means to never stop.

What were you looking for in the women you picked for felicitations?
When recognizing the achievements of unstoppable women, there are no nominations because everybody is unique in their own way. Everybody has a story to tell. Everybody has their own journey. Even if they are coming from the same field, one cannot be compared to another. So, for me, felicitating these women meant that they have been unstoppable, which means that they will not stop in the field that they have excelled in, and so many more. They are inspirational, they are aspirational, they are unstoppable, they are women of substance.

How would you say that women in this region, that women from this region have broken the glass ceiling very specifically in your field of expertise?
If you look at the women, that are being felicitated and the kind of fields they have come from, they are an absolute example. From Science and Technology, the Government Sector, Media and so many more, everywhere you see women holding a high post. Today, husbands want their wives to be partners and fathers want their daughters to excel, so from the perspective of glass ceilings, I don’t they exists anymore. But with regards to my field, there are lots of women in the media business; my company is 75% women. So, if you look at is as a publisher, for the kind of magazines that we are running, I am probably the only woman publisher with regards to some the leading publishing companies. However, I am sure there are plenty others that exist. There are many who want to be and are aspiring to be, and I hope I can be a leading example for them.

Who is your role model and why?
My role model is my father. He raised me to believe that I could achieve anything and was always proud of me. But, if there was a woman that I would or I used to look up to a lot, it was Lady Diana. For me, as a woman, she was the woman of substance. She came, she conquered and she went too early. She raised the heir to-be to and is somebody that always inspired me. She was a princess but she chose to be one of us.

What were your thoughts on the panel meet?
The Manzil Downtown Dubai was the perfect location for the panel meet for the Femina ME Women Awards 2016. It was cozy and intimate with staff that was welcoming, hospitable and well organized. The variety available for the high tea was excellent with a great mix of Arabic and Western choices. The perfect venue for an amazing evening.




The Arabian Courtyard at Manzil Downtown Dubai was host to the Femina ME Women Awards 2016 Panel Meet. Here are some pictures from the high tea event.


Photographs by: Sarfaraz Ali Photography