It was a night where we were encouraged to not just scratch glass ceilings, but to shatter them.
And judging by the calibre of the nominees and winners at the Emirates Woman Woman of the Year Awards 2016, the ladies of the UAE are doing just that.
In association with Tryano and sponsors Marina Home, theoutnet.com, Fabergé and Gemfields, Skin O2, Palazzo Versace Dubai, African & Eastern and Jacobsons Direct Marketing Services, around 400 guests gathered on Tuesday evening to celebrate some of the most inspirational women living and working in the Emirates today.
Among the regal purple and gold décor and glimmering crystal chandeliers of the Palazzo Versace Dubai, an impeccably dressed crowd sipped on bubbles and nibbled dainty canapés before the award-giving kicked off. Whereas last year’s alfresco event saw a little rainfall, this time the only thing guests were dewy with were diamonds and well-placed highlighter, while the Laura Ingham Jazz Trio got the party started with some soulful tunes.
The 26 nominees, each of whom are making a marked difference to the UAE and beyond in the realms of art, business, philanthropy, entertainment and more, mingled with guests before BBC-trained journalist Shahnaz Pakravan began proceedings.
Addressing the 42 tables filling the Palazzo Versace’s ivory-rose-adorned ballroom, Pakravan noted that this year was particularly special. Not only is it the 12th annual Emirates Woman Woman of the Year awards, but it is also the magazine’s 35th birthday.
“By my calculation, that was 1981 – many of you were not even born then,” the radio and news presenter joked, before paying tribute to a glossy that began life “way ahead of its time”.
“And here today, it’s an institution unto itself, still going strong in a cluttered and noisy market.”
However, we weren’t there to just celebrate our three-and-a-half decades – as Pakravan noted, we had congregated to applaud “game-changing visionaries… energising not just their communities and their industries, but the country and the region”.
Before the chic glass trophies were given out, Group Editor Sophia Serin took to the stage to thank all the nominees for their incredibly dedicated, passionate work.
“Emirates Woman‘s vision has always been the same: to support women in the region no matter their race, religion, or vocation,” said Serin, clad in a gown by Lebanese designer Elie Saab, before wishing all the nominees the very best of luck.
So, who walked away with the trophies on the night?
Read Last Year’s Coverage:
Emirates Woman Woman of the Year Awards 2015: EW Wearing
Emirates Woman Woman Of The Year Awards 2015: The Round-Up
Emirates Woman Woman Of The Year Awards 2015: Best Dressed Women
Emirates Woman Woman Of The Year Awards 2015: Best Dressed Men
Following an appetiser of quinoa salad featuring baby spinach, yellow cherry tomatoes and a tangy ginger soy sauce, the first category up was The Artists, sponsored by theoutnet.com.
The award went to actor, writer and producer Dana Dajani, who is also the founder of The Human Spirit Project, a non-profit that raises funds through charitable events and performances.
Admitting she was shocked to win, she told Emirates Woman backstage that the award was an “incredible honour”, and thanked the audiences who come out to support her work, and the collaborators that continue to create and innovate with her.
She also gave a shout-out to her fellow nominees, “bright shining lights” who inspire Dajani and “so many others”.
Sponsored by Marina Home, the Achiever award went to Raha Moharrak, a barrier-breaking adventurer who has scaled the world’s highest summits, including Kilimanjaro.
Moharrak, who was the first Saudi woman to conquer Everest, has never let anything hold her back, telling the crowd that “women are capable of anything” and she just wanted to “scratch the glass ceiling”.
Following her win, Moharrak told Emirates Woman she was going to give her award to her father – and then have another go at a mountain she’s determined to climb before she retires from the pursuit.
“I want to go back and try to finish Denali, the highest peak of Alaska… I nearly died when I tried it two years ago.”
Next up was the Young Talent category, sponsored by Fabergé and Gemfields, which was won by YouTuber and boutique owner Hayla Ghazal.
At just 20 years old, the entrepreneur has also been appointed Change Ambassador for Gender Equality by the United Nations.
That’s a cause she championed on the night, telling us backstage that her aim is to “empower women to make a change – because we can”, before humbly saying she was just honoured to be in the same room as her fellow nominees.
Woven between awards, everyone tucked into a slow-cooked lamb served with a silky smoked aubergine puree, while a raspberry and yoghurt delight rounded off the evening perfectly with its sweet and slightly sour notes.
After bellies were suitably filled, the Humanitarian award – sponsored by Tryano – went to Emirates Autism Centre founder Amal Galal Sabry.
The ground-breaking Sabry was inspired to launch the educational facility after helping her own son become the first autistic child in the UAE to be integrated into a mainstream high school.
“This also opened doors for thousands of children with autism to receive a typical education and follow in his footsteps towards growth and independence,” she said.
Backstage, she revealed that her daughter had secretly nominated her for the Emirates Woman award due to her immense pride at her mother and brother’s achievements.
“I feel happy because [this award] will make other women with a similar background feel like there’s success ahead,” said Sabry. “[Autism] is not the end of the world.”
Next came the Skin O2-sponsored Visionary category, which was awarded to Dubai Women Establishment CEO Shamsa Saleh.
Truly a champion of females in the region, Saleh has been instrumental in launching initiatives including the Arab Women Leadership Forum, Women in Board Initiative, Women Leadership Exchange Program, and The National Child Care Centres Project.
Telling Emirates Woman that she wholeheartedly believes the UAE can further close the gender gap in the next five years, Saleh said the awards send a “big message that we are a society that empowers women”.
“Fifty per cent of our population are women, and they make a great contribution in government, the private sector, and all sectors.”
So, who took home the Emirates Woman of the Year award?
She’s climbed Everest, so another trip back up the steps to the stage was easy for winner Raha Moharrak, the mountaineer crowned the overall winner.
The adventurer isn’t just scratching that glass ceiling, she’s smashing it, said Motivate’s Group Editor and Managing Partner Ian Fairservice, who dished out the award.
Apologising to the applauding guests for crying for “the first time in years”, Moharrak dedicated the trophy to her parents, “who taught me to dream big and live even bigger”.
She also told the crowd she just wanted to inspire girls to feel as if they can achieve anything they put their minds to.
“Even a Saudi woman can stand on top of the world,” she said, though later revealed to Emirates Woman that finishing the book she is currently penning “is probably going to be tougher than climbing Everest”.
“I never thought I’d be standing here having won an international award for being a Saudi mountaineer, so I’ve learned to believe in myself.”
As this was a birthday year for Emirates Woman, the night didn’t end there. A spectacular cream and emerald ombre cake was wheeled out as the magazine’s team, along with Motivate Managing Parter Ian Fairservice and his two daughters, took to the stage.
Happy birthday to us (here’s to 35 more years!) and a huge congratulations to the nominees and award winners. See you back here next year with more inspirational women from around the region.
THE GOODIE BAGS
Guests made their way home armed with the following treats:
– A copy of Emirates Woman magazine
– A fine fragrance mist from Bath & Body Works
– A coconut water from Vita Coco
– A balancing softener from Shiseido
– A voucher for the ZO Skin Centre
– A cleanser from Shiseido
– Stationery from Fabergé
– An Eideal hairbrush
– A bottle of Fiji Water
– Phizz vitamin capsules
– Revlon mascaras, lipstick and highlighter
– Clinique lipstick and samples
– A No7 serum
– A micellar water and moisturiser from Bioderma
– A voucher, makeup and cleansing wipes from Skin O2
– A voucher from theoutnet.com
– A voucher from Tryano
– A voucher from cupNcakes
– A voucher from Marina Home
– A notebook from Calvin Klein
– A voucher from José Eber LaLoge beauty lounge
– A coffee cold brew and voucher from Detox Delight
Images: Farooq Salik, Kristina Nabieva and Jade Wills