To celebrate the UN’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11 February, we highlight six women at the forefront of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in the UAE – cybersecurity specialist Dr Hoda Alkhzaimi, HE Sarah Al Amiri, chair of the UAE Space Agency, Salma Al Hajeri, one of the first women to graduate from Abu Dhabi’s Petroleum Institute, Aisha Al Mansoori, the first female Emirati captain in a commercial airline, aspiring scientist Alia Al Mansoori, and Nora Al Matrooshi, the first Arab woman astronaut – and look at facts about STEM, a growing field for women in the Middle East.
Arab women in science
- Around the world, women represent only 35 percent of students studying STEM. That soars to 61 percent in the UAE.
- In the Middle East, up to 57 percent of all STEM graduates are women, according to UNESCO.
- Four Arab countries – Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, and Tunisia – have achieved gender parity in the number of their scientific researchers, with at least 45 percent of researchers being women (UNESCO Science Report 2021).
Gender gap in science persists
- In Saudi Arabia, 38 percent of Saudi graduates in STEM are women, but only 17 percent of these go on to work in related fields.
- In cutting-edge fields such as artificial intelligence, only one in five professionals (22%) is a woman.
- Women are typically given smaller research grants than their male colleagues, according to the UN.
- One in three researchers is a woman but they tend to have shorter, less well-paid careers, the UN says. Their work is under-represented in high-profile journals and they are often passed over for promotion.
- Only three percent of scientific Nobel Prizes have been awarded to women.
“We can all do our part to unleash our world’s enormous untapped talent – starting with filling classrooms, laboratories, and boardrooms with women scientists.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres
Dr Hoda Alkhzaimi
Dr Hoda Alkhzaimi is currently a research assistant professor at New York University Abu Dhabi and the Director of the Center of Cyber Security in New York University Abu Dhabi.
A Pathway20 participant, she is also the President of the Emirates Digital Association for Women and CEO of Women in AI.
Dr Alkhzaimi obtained her PhD in Cryptanalysis from Denmark Technical University.
HE Sarah Al Amiri
HE Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology, is chair of the UAE Space Agency and the UAE Council of Scientists, and deputy project manager of the Emirates Mars Mission.
She is also chair of the board of directors of the Emirates Schools Establishment.
Her Excellency – who has given a keynote speech on innovation to Aurora50’s The Board Summit – began her career at the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology. She worked on DubaiSat-1 and DubaiSat-2.
She holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Computer Engineering from the American University of Sharjah.
“The future of the UAE needs to be driven by knowledge and it needs to be fuelled by knowledge,” she says.
Salma Al Hajeri
Salma Al Hajeri has worked with Mubadala for over a decade and is now Vice-President of Non-operated Assets for MENA and Russia.
She was one of the first women to train at Abu Dhabi’s Petroleum Institute and graduated with a masters in engineering, having studied for a bachelors in electrical engineering at the UAE University in Al Ain, where she is from.
She also has an MBA from Abu Dhabi University and was the first woman reservoir engineer in ADCO, part of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).
“One of the things that makes me most proud is the example my story gives young girls and women who are now embarking on their own journey as engineers and scientists,” she says.
Aisha Al Mansoori
Last year Aisha Al Mansoori became the UAE’s first female Emirati captain in a commercial airline.
She has flown with Etihad Airways since joining as a cadet in 2007 and received her four stripes denoting her new rank as a captain at 33, on Emirati Women’s Day 2022.
“The opportunities are growing and growing, especially in the region. The sky is the limit, really,” she says.
Ms Al Mansoori’s sister is Major Mariam Al-Mansouri, the UAE’s first female fighter pilot.
Alia Al Mansoori
Alia Al Mansoori is an aspiring scientist who turns 21 this year.
She is the youngest person ever to be appointed scientific research fellow at New York University Abu Dhabi.
She also set up Emirati Astronaut, a platform to encourage dialogue between aspiring astronauts and veterans of space flight.
She is studying at the University of Edinburgh.
Nora Al Matrooshi
In 2021 Nora Al Matrooshi became the first female Emirati and Arab astronaut; only 65 women worldwide have been to space.
Chosen from over 4,000 candidates to be trained for future space exploration missions, Ms Al Matrooshi is spending two years with NASA in the US.
She is learning how to operate and maintain the International Space Station, training for space walks, robotic skills, T-38 training jet operations and Russian language skills.
She studied mechanical engineering at the United Arab Emirates University, and aspires to land on the Moon aboard an Emirati spacecraft.