United Arab Emirates
In 2004, the president of the United Arab Emirates announced a new lineup of cabinet ministers—an ordinary act of government, but one that prompted an extraordinary amount of media attention worldwide. This cabinet was different. It included Sheikha Lubna al-Qasimi, the first woman to hold a cabinet position in the history of the UAE—and the first female finance minister in the history of the Middle East.
At the time, Sheikha Lubna had already enjoyed a remarkable career as a businesswomen and information technology professional. She was the CEO of a highly regarded firm called Tejari, the first business-to-business e-marketplace in the Middle East. She led the implementation of the Dubai e-government initiative that made public services available online. She designed software for the Dubai Ports Authority that dramatically increased efficiency—an innovation that earned her the UAE’s Distinguished Employee Award in 2000. She was the first woman to earn that honor.
The UAE’s economy, financial markets, and monetary and investment policies have been modernized under her leadership. Today, as head of the newly formed ministry of foreign trade, Sheikha Lubna travels around the world, negotiating trade agreements and attracting overseas investment. She has become one of the best-known ambassadors for her country, regularly speaking on major stages, such as the World Economic Forum and the Council on Foreign Relations.
The women of her country point to Sheika Lubna as a source of pride and inspiration—and so do many of the men. She embraces her status as a role model, but insists that the women of her country have the tools they need to accomplish their dreams: “It is up to us as women to decide…what it is that we can do and not do.”