3 Arab Women Leading The Sustainability Revolution In The Middle East

Shaking up the status quo is the default setting for these three change-makers. BAZAAR discovers how they are challenging the norm and breaking new ground in sustainability…


30, Emirati, Director of Partnerships and Special Projects, Ministry of Climate Change and Environment

Shaima wears: Jacket, Dhs2,470, Serrb. Top, Dhs12,000, Twisted Roots. Shoes, Shaima’s own

“I’m always so filled with pride when my nieces and nephews ask for help on their climate change and sustainability homework. It just goes to show that the educational system is finally changing by integrating really important global issues into the curriculums.

Growing up, I knew that I wanted to be part of something big and impact the lives of others in some way. To be honest though, I could have done anything being that my background is in marketing. But climate change was it – I wanted to make a difference in the world and positively impact future generations to come.

Now that I am the Director of Partnerships and Special Projects at the Ministry of Climate Change, I’m leading the UAE’s sustainability initiatives to preserve our country’s natural beauty that we are blessed with. And as a woman, the UAE government has created an enabling environment that empowers me to play a leading role in the nation’s sustainable development. In the Ministry, women take on many leadership roles and share new ideas, develop and implement new projects and offer feedback on strategies and initiatives.

One of our main priorities is to ensure that we build capacity for our youth. For the last three years, over 50 per cent of our delegation at the UN climate change negotiations has been comprised of youth, of which the majority were women. This on its own is a testament – and strong signal to the world – that we believe the empowerment of women and youth will help us solve some of the world’s most critical issues like climate change.

Being that climate change is at the top of the UAE leadership agenda, it’s allowed us to drive action on an international level. There’s an understanding of how the threat is challenging to our society, and with that is this pioneering spirit to diversify and strengthen the economy, and improve human and environmental health.

We’ve been developing strategies focused on building a green economy which will result in 4-5 per cent higher GDP growth and create 160,000 new jobs by 2030. I hope that one day the global conversations will be on how the world overcame such enormous environmental challenges where I can look back and say – “Yes, I contributed to that movement!”


38, Lebanese, Co-Founder of RIOT

Maya wears: Dress, Dhs2,920, Alexander McQueen. Boots, Dhs4,910, Alaïa. Jewellery, Maya’s own

“In my kids’ lunchboxes, I’ve now swapped zip-lock bags with beeswax food wraps. They’re reusable, biodegradable and look really cool. There are so many inventions out there to replace every polluting item. I sent my kids to a Green nursery because I’m very concerned about raising conscientious children who care about the environment, recycling and food composting. It’s important for them to argue about why we need petrol and advocate the upcycling of their toys. I feel it is my own personal contribution to a more sustainable future – I take showers now as opposed to baths to not only save time but the planet, too.

I’ve always believed in disrupting the status quo – because perceptions are made to be broken. I think being sustainable is first and foremost an awareness of, and appreciation for, our natural environment. It’s not about completely shifting your life but more like making little switches, which when aggregated, will make a bigger change.

When RIOT (Reinventing Original Trends) launched in 2017, it was to enable women to build their own micro-business out of shopping. I believe there is value in your closet and that authentic ‘fashion finds’ deserve a second life. When you buy or sell pre-loved, you are saving the entire negative impact of production because the pieces already exist. You are effectively extending the life of the pre-loved item by an average of 2.2 years, thereby reducing its carbon, waste, and water footprint by 84 per cent. And this is the message we want to spread. Every dollar spent by a consumer is a vote, and they should be well informed before they cast their vote.

For this region, the potential for change is massive. Arab women have become the world’s biggest buyers of high fashion. I’ve read that Hermès has said that 35 per cent of its annual sales growth stems from the Middle East. When you hold so much power, you are in a unique position to make a change.

You don’t have to work in the business or be an active environmentalist to contribute to a sustainable future. I’ve got my kids selling their own used items at the weekend now that they’ve understood the concept of a circular economy, of taking goods that have value and putting them back in the economy for others to buy and recirculate.

I think being conscious of what we spend our money on is one of the most effective ways to create immediate change and this is something we as a family do”


29, Jordanian/Serbian, Mountaineer and Brand Ambassador at The Sustainable City

Dolores wears: Jacket, Dhs10,615; Trousers, Dhs3,610; Boots, POA, all Alaïa. Ring, Dolores’ own

“After years of preparation, I was finally stood at the top of the world this past May 2019 – at 8,848 metres – as the first Jordanian woman to summit Mount Everest. But it was more about the journey. Spending two months living in the Himalayas in a life totally different to what I’m used to and with people from different cultures who ended up becoming my family, showed me how humanity should be, and the importance of believing in yourself. Persistence and hard work makes anything possible.

My want to explore the world in this way came from my upbringing in Amman. I wanted to be away from civilisation and my comfort zones by pushing my limits. It’s not very common for a woman in her mid-20s in the Middle East to aspire to this goal, but I was determined to go against convention.

I’ve always embraced nature and adventure. Since I was a child, my passion for the environment was focused on not polluting it. Climbing Everest was about growing and gaining lessons in gratitude. It made me mentally stronger and able to see life from a different angle.

While my mountain-climbing passions scaled upwards, I approached The Sustainable City for support in realising my dream. They truly believe in providing women and youth a chance to achieve the impossible. Our values on the importance of the environment and taking action towards protecting it aligned perfectly.

The brilliant thing about The Sustainable City is they have managed to bring all environmental, social and economic sustainability solutions in one place. Everything about it is progressive. They recycle water, waste, grow vegetables – they use electric buggies, promote wellness, happiness and inclusion. The initiatives they have to raise awareness and share knowledge are countless. I recently worked with them on launching their business incubator to nurture new ideas, technologies and innovations that contribute to the sustainability pillars in making cities and communities more sustainable.

From ground level to the top of the earth, I’ve been able to action a lot and I’m always so appreciative of the support along the way. Challenges are what drive me forward. In life, I operate with the phrase: ‘Where there is a will, there is a way’ because change can take time. Nothing worth it comes easy.”

Original Article by: Harpers Bazaar Arabia

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