Written by: Pooja Gundimeda
“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” People worldwide recognize this quote by Neil Armstrong, the first man to ever walk on the moon. Since the mid 20th century, mankind has watched as fellow humans take on the treacherous task of traveling to space. Soon after the first man traveled to space in 1961, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to take off into space in 1963. Being the first woman in space was not only a victory for the U.S.S.R. but also a victory for women everywhere. Last week, women celebrated another victory with the United Arab Emirates announcing Noura Al-Matrooshi as their first female astronaut. Al-Matrooshi made history with this announcement as she will not only be the first-ever female astronaut for the UAE, but she will also be the first Arab and Emirati woman to travel to space. She was selected from over 4,000 candidates who applied to be in the UAE’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre astronaut program. This is a major step in the right direction for gender equality within the United Arab Emirates.
Within the past few years, the United Arab Emirates has become a nation that has placed a high value on gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. The country has introduced historic reforms that now allow Emirati women to be the head of household, and they have brought forth legislation that works to address domestic violence and sexual harassment. Additionally, the nation has worked to bar gender-based discrimination in the workplace and has removed job restrictions in many sectors of the economy. This progress has made the United Arab Emirates a leader for women’s rights among nations in the Middle East and North Africa.
While the United Arab Emirates is seen as an emerging leader in regards to women’s rights, the nation still has a long way to go. Emirati women still face discrimination regarding issues such as divorce, marriage, and citizenship. In the United Arab Emirates, a man can divorce his spouse by simply requesting to have a divorce, while a woman must attain the written permission of a male guardian to leave a marriage. This standard is the same with marriage for Emirati men and women. Additionally, as explained by the Human Rights Watch (HWR), Emirati women cannot pass on their citizenship status to their offspring, leaving their children to be stateless individuals. This is an issue of extreme concern since stateless individuals “lack basic rights and services throughout their lives.” Issues like the ones aforementioned illustrate areas the UAE needs to focus on to reach true gender equality.
After the announcement last week from the UAE, Al-Matrooshi tweeted, “The nation gave me unforgettable moments today. I aim to work hard to script historical moments and achievements that will be etched forever in the memory of our people.” Al-Matrooshi becoming the first Arab woman to take on the treacherous task of space travel is history in the making. Her bravery and passion for space travel will continue to inspire young women for years to come. While this news from the United Arab Emirates serves as a victory for women, specifically Arab and Emirati women, everywhere, true gender equality will happen once legislation passes to rectify issues concerning divorce, marriage, and citizenship.