As Expo 2020 Dubai prepares to take place later this year, we discover the pavilion specially dedicated to women with Hind Alowais, Vice President of International Participants Department at Expo 2020 Dubai.
Expo 2020 Dubai recently announced The Women’s Pavilion in collaboration with Cartier. An exciting project that will reaffirm a shared commitment to closing the gender gap and promoting gender equality both regionally and globally. The collaboration will see the inauguration of a dedicated Women’s Pavilion at Expo 2020 that will celebrate female changemakers from around the globe. Under an exhibition titled “New Perspectives”, the Women’s Pavilion which is in partnership with Cartier, will invite visitors to recognise the central role that women have played throughout history. Celebrating the significant – and often forgotten – contributions of women, the pavilion will demonstrate an important principle: when women thrive, humanity thrives. It will highlight important contributions women have made in advancing societies, as well as the challenges they still face, especially as the world navigates through the COVID-19 pandemic and works toward a more sustainable future. Breaking stereotypes and deconstructing misconceptions on women’s roles, the pavilion will raise awareness by showcasing both female and male contributors to women’s empowerment and gender equality, inspiring visitors of all ages to become change-makers within their own communities and beyond. Through a series of discussions and events over the six-month period of Expo 2020, The Women’s Pavilion in collaboration with Cartier will address regional and global issues that women face and offer a fresh outlook on the future.
One of the leaders behind the development of the Women’s Pavilion is Hind Alowais, Vice President of International Participants Department at Expo 2020 Dubai. In her role, Hind oversees the participation of international and intergovernmental organisations, as well as a wide range of stakeholders such as non-governmental organisations, academic institutions, philanthropic foundations, and global initiatives. Within her leading role at the Expo 2020 Women’s Pavilion in collaboration with Cartier Hind aims to create a space that will address global challenges by building a platform for multi-stakeholder partnerships to advance the global development agenda through innovative and impact-driven initiatives. Having previously worked with the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs for almost 15 years she focused on multilateral diplomacy and supporting the UAE’s agenda. She served as a Special Assistant to the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, HH Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, where she advised on key policy issues, and she also played a central role in bringing the International Renewable Energy Agency to Abu Dhabi. Hind was the first Emirati national to hold a senior position in the United Nations system, advising the leadership of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (UN Women) on key strategic issues. As a Senior Advisor for Intergovernmental Support and Strategic Partnerships at UN Women, she oversaw the launch of the UN Women Liaison Office in Abu Dhabi and was responsible for looking into the role of religion in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment at UN Women headquarters. Hind brings her experience and interest in continuing the journey of gender equality in the UAE to her role at Expo 2020 and more specifically to the development of the Women’s Pavilion. Here we learn more about the project, as well as the advancement of women’s empowerment and gender equality, not just in the UAE but across the world.
Tell us about The Women’s Pavilion in collaboration with Cartier at Expo 2020. How did it come to life and what is the message you are trying to send through?
I think it was important to have the Women’s Pavilion, firstly, because of the values that have been instilled in us in the UAE by the founding father His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. There is a quote from him that says: “nothing makes me happier than seeing women take their exceptional role in society, and nothing must obstruct their advancement.” So, the founding of this country was very much focused on the idea of women and men working side by side, having equal opportunities and having an equal seat at the table in the building process of this nation. So, when you have that in the background and you recognise the UAE’s long-standing commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment, not only from the values that it has instilled, but to think about how the UAE in such a short time, has surpassed so many other countries and become recognised as the leader when it comes to closing the gender gap in the Middle East. When you think about all these achievements, we can’t have an event like Expo 2020 which brings the world together and not have the issue of gender equality and women’s empowerment at the core of what we’re doing.
So this is one aspect of it but there are two sides. One is that we do it very thoughtfully and in a very meaningful way and secondly, we are modelling it on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. When the world was negotiating this agenda there was a huge discussion on whether gender should be a cross-cutting theme, or it should be an entity by itself. And we were one of the countries that advocated that it should be both. I was part of the negotiating team at that time, and we supported UN women and like-minded countries to make sure that gender was not seen in a silo but was seen as something that deserves its own place, and was also integrated across all the other sectors, and this is exactly what we’re doing at Expo 2020 Dubai.
The Women’s Pavilion in collaboration with Cartier represents the standalone concept of women’s equality and then we have gender equality and women’s empowerment which has become a cross-cutting issue in everything that we’re doing. Every issue that is being tackled at Expo 2020 will have a gender angle. I think this is even more important to highlight than to ask, ‘why do you have a Women’s Pavilion?’ Because not only do we have a Women’s Pavilion, but we are tackling the issue of gender equality and women’s empowerment across everything that we do. And we’re telling the world, that gender issues, women’s rights, women’s issues, women’s advancement, gender balance, that whole agenda, is not just a women’s rights agenda. It’s not just something that concerns only women, it is something that concerns everybody in the world. Women’s issues are everybody’s issues and all issues are related to women, and that’s a very important step forward to take in our thinking. We can’t continue to have 50% of our population, not have equal opportunities, not have an equal space, or equal footing. It’s impossible to create a prosperous, sustainable, stable, and peaceful world without the full and equal participation of women. And so, we are hoping that through our work, we are delivering these messages.
Finally, we also want to create an opportunity to build collaborations. Expo 2020 is a platform for innovation that brings the world together and creates a multi-stakeholder approach with 200 participants, global countries, international organisations, and foundations, all coming together, for six months, and we have an amazing opportunity to enhance the conversation, and to keep it going for a substantial period. We hope to have 25 million visits, and if half of those walk out with the conviction that women’s issues are everybody’s issues, and everybody’s issues are women’s issues, and that when women thrive, humanity thrives, then we’ve done our part. This is an amazing opportunity for us, and I feel especially honoured and lucky to be able to work on a project that I feel so passionately about. We are driven by the vision of Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimi and it is an honour for me to be able to deliver that vision, which I also believe in 100%, and to say that we’re doing this not only for the UAE, but for women worldwide.
Tell us a little about why you decided to partner with Cartier on this project and what are the common codes or values that you found with such a brand?
It’s been a real pleasure to be able to partner with Cartier and to be able to learn so much about them and to understand how we can come from different vantage points or different walks of life but have a common vision for the future. A vision that is based on, empowering women and this idea of femininity being strong. And the idea that equality does not remove femininity, on the contrary, it is creating an equal space. This is I think, what we have done in the UAE that is so brilliant. We as women from this country have never compromised on our values or our culture, but within all of that, we have also been strong. And so, what people need to recognise is that the misconceptions of women from this region are so far from the truth. And just because we are proud of who we are, and where we come from, does not mean that we have fewer rights or less equality. On the contrary, we are demonstrating that within all of that, we own it, we own our equality, we are always constantly driving forward, we are making progress every year. It makes me very proud.
But to answer your question more directly, when Cartier approached us, we were already under the direction of HE Reem Al Hashimi to create a woman’s pavilion. So, we went back to that principle of Expo, and we thought, it might be interesting to work with a brand like Cartier who has demonstrated its commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment through various initiatives. Whether it’s through their philanthropy, or the Cartier Women’s Initiatives Award, or their amazing CEO Cyrille Vigneron, who speaks so highly of women.
There was great synergy and a connection of minds between the teams and going back to this idea of creating a new perspective, which is the title of our exhibition, I think we must recognise that we are women of the world, who are facing universal challenges, no matter where we come from. But we must all be one at the end of the day and coming together with Cartier was such a unique and special experience.
Emirati women Day is coming up, what does this day mean to you first as a person, and how important is it to have a day that acknowledges the achievements of Emirati women?
We owe a lot, not only to our founding father, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, but also to Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak. She created Emirati Women’s Day, and she was spearheading all efforts to secure women’s rights and continues to do so through the General Women’s Union. We have leadership initiatives that were born from this, like the Gender Balance Council, and there has been a common vision by our leadership to propel women forward. So, Emirati Women’s Day for me is a moment of pride, but it’s also it is a moment of gratefulness. Because not everybody has the support, or the opportunities or the leadership vision like Emirati women have. Even when society culturally was not there, the leadership was ahead of us, and society and our values and the culture followed. It’s something so beautiful that we have legislative advancements being made and the cultural values are hand in hand moving forward. That’s thanks to our leadership, who instilled these values in us and who made things possible. I can’t say enough about it because it’s such a unique situation and we are very, very, lucky to be Emirati women.
Speaking of progress, what is something that you still aim to achieve?
So many things! I think we’re all striving for the same thing, to create a better world, and to make sure that we are existing in this life and this world, and spreading not just good values, but that we are a positive existence. On a more professional level, I feel very passionately about the work I do, and I am very proud to have had this opportunity to be part of Expo 2020 and the Women’s Pavilion will remain a legacy and I can’t wait to leave something behind that will be meaningful and will enable us to continue this conversation after Expo 2020 closes its doors.
What is a motto you live by?
“Nothing is impossible” is one that inspires me. When we think of the obstacles and the challenges, and what we thought was impossible for us to achieve, especially as women, and then when you see what women have done so far you realise that they have moved mountains, they have overcome things that we thought were impossible.
Is there anything you can share with us about what to expect from the Women’s Pavilion?
We are employing different avenues to tell the story that we want to tell, which is focused on new perspectives and how when women thrive, humanity thrives. So a collaboration with artists is one avenue that will allow us to tell the story. We are going back in history and looking at profiles of women who have achieved the impossible and looking at how women today are working to provide solutions to make the world better. The Pavilion represents women’s stories – whether it’s through their profiles, or through their own voices. It is a space where we honour and celebrate the women of the past and women of today who are working to make our world a better place.
We will also host a series of discussions that will try to tackle issues from a different perspective. One golden thread we have in all our discussions is women’s leadership. And by leadership, I mean, women’s seats at the table, women’s voices being heard. I give the example of space exploration, or climate change, or biodiversity, or health – what does it mean for us to think about these issues from the gender perspective? What does it mean to ask if women had a seat at the table, or were in leadership positions, what would happen? So demonstrating how women bring a different perspective to the table and the value of this.
We have some amazing people that we’re bringing to the women’s pavilion who will share their vision of what a gender-equal future looks like. They will share their journeys of how they have overcome inequality and discrimination, but also tackle issues in a newer way. We also have a series of discussions that will look at changing the misconceptions around women. Women have always been contributing, but the lights were never on, so now it’s time to bring it to the forefront and that’s what the Women’s Pavilion will do.
This year the UAE celebrates 50 years, what does this mean to you and what message you would send to your country on this occasion?
Onwards and forwards! If there was a wish I could have for this country and for the next 50 years, it is that we remain a loving nation and we continue to be people who love each other, who are inclusive, and tolerant. I hope we continue to be exemplary in everything we do, and that we do it with excellence like we have always done, and never lose the values of love and respect. I think that is something so special that the UAE and our people possess, that you don’t find anywhere else, and I hope that we never have to compromise our values and our culture for advancement.
Who is your role model and what would you tell him or her?
I have so many from the UAE. His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan is somebody I look up to very much. I’m in awe of him and how brilliant he is and what a great statesman and politician he is. I’m constantly amazed and impressed by how this country moves and establishes itself as a leader in the world and the wisdom and kindness that it is done with.
The other person is His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum who has built Dubai to compete with cities like New York. He had this amazing vision and the fact that he was able to bring it to life and position it on the world stage, the way that other cities are, is amazing. I truly think that Dubai competes with cities like New York, and I used to live in New York. It’s very similar in terms of the pace of life, accessibility, the intelligence of the people around you. We have built a truly cosmopolitan city that is forward-thinking, futuristic, and just amazing.
I would also have to mention HE Reem Al Hashimy because she inspires me every day with her work ethic, her commitment to excellence and her attention to detail. As Minister of State for International Cooperation, and the Director-General of Expo she is just amazing, but what I think is the most special thing about her is how she maintains a level of kindness, understanding and humanity. She is a kind person, and when she looks at the world, she sees people and that’s something very special. Her vision is based on this idea of people coming together and getting to know one another and at the end of the day we are all human beings, and we should all recognise that in one another and come together.
What would you like to tell our readers about Expo 2020?
It’s going to be amazing, it’s going to be a show of human brilliance, innovation, arts, music, food. You’ll be able to travel the world in one space. It’s all these things and it’s a fun, educational space, and it’s a space to raise awareness. Everything in one spot, and how lucky are we that we have this one spot here in Dubai?