The Women’s Museum in Dubai: Celebrating the lives and achievements of women in the UAE

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Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at AUD, Dr. Pamela Chrabieh organized a field trip for her MEST 353 Women and Gender in the Middle East students on Saturday, February 4, 2017 at the Women’s Museum in Dubai.

The museum is a unique cultural initiative in the Arab World and the Gulf region, dedicated to the exploration and celebration of the lives and achievements of many women in the United Arab Emirates. Located in a house of historical importance dating from the 1950s, Bait Al Banat (‘Girls House’), it was established by Professor Rafia Ghubash who believes in the centrality of women’s roles in defining the Emirati culture and shaping their society.

According to Dr. Chrabieh: “It was an honor to have Professor Ghubash as our guide and host. She told us personal and national stories of the past and present of women in the UAE, and students were able to deconstruct stereotypes and learn about the diverse activities and contributions of women in academia, business, politics and culture.”

From series of photographs and passport copies, to public documents, poems, artefacts, burqas, abayas, jewelry, sculptures and paintings, the three-floor museum embodies Dr. Ghubash’s statement: “You have to learn that your rights are born with you. Don’t think the government or your husband will give you a right. It’s inside you, just practice it”. Indeed, the examples of Sheikhas as peacemakers, women pioneers in education and famous poets such as Ousha Bint Khalifa mirror both the story of the UAE and that of self-empowered human beings with diverse gender constructions and expressions.”

Furthermore, this encounter with the multifaceted lives of Emirati women down through history helped students understand the value of national and individual memories and narratives, the importance of heritage preservation and the richness of new lights that shed on the present by examining the past; lights, for Dr. Chrabieh, “that fill the tunnel of our knowledge building journey.

Food is Not Just Food

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When I started developing food workshops at the Université de Montréal in Canada in 2004 while teaching World Religions and Interfaith/Intercultural Dialogue, there were students and faculty who thought it was too bizarre, not serious enough or even frivolous. Needless to say that it took several years of hard work, perseverance, loads of imagination and a solid theoretical framework for the practice to be acknowledged in the academic institutions I taught in, whether in Canada, Lebanon or the United Arab Emirates. Fortunately, other scholars and practitioners have been interested in food in the last decade and food studies’ recognition has been growing on a global level.

Food studies explore agricultural, environmental, nutritional, social, political, economic and cultural perspectives on food. Scholars and researchers examine issues ranging from food sovereignty, sustainability and ethics, and food access and affordability, to the cultural and religious significance and representation of food and agriculture, and policies that shape food landscapes.In my classrooms, students are introduced to the main approaches in food studies, the issue of food as a cultural signifier and identity marker, and the diverse foodways and foodvoices found in Southwestern Asia and North Africa. This introduction exposes them to stories of families, migrations, assimilation, resistance, hybridity, and to stories of war and peace. It also helps them debunk stereotypes and experience dialogue through food diplomacy activities. Furthermore, students are introduced to Anthropology of food as a main sub-field of food studies, and are asked to use its many methods in research and food production: from applying a holistic perspective to case comparisons and controlled comparisons, and looking for the origins of targeted food to better understand human nature and evolution, globalization and its effects on local culture, niche foods, the locavore movement, food wars, etc.

This semester, just like the previous ones, I can proudly say that not only have my students revealed their hidden culinary skills, but they have also started to develop the curiosity and analytical flair of food anthropologists. They were able to understand that food is definitely not Just Food. Food plays a crucial role in communities and society as a whole; it represents an integral part of human livelihoods, beliefs, practices, identities, pasts, presents and futures.

Harvard College Asia Program Conference

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Dr. Pamela Chrabieh

Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern Studies Dr. Pamela Chrabieh was invited as a special guest speaker to give a lecture entitled “Policy, Global Citizens and World Peace: How can Governments influence policy to create better Global citizens and work towards World Peace? Case studies: Lebanon, Canada and the United Arab Emirates” on March 14, 2016 at the American University in Dubai.

The Conference was organized by the Harvard College Asia Program (HCAP) – an initiative in which Harvard University partners with higher education institutions in Asia to tackle key issues relevant to today’s world of increasing challenges, while simultaneously expanding the cultural and educational horizons of participating student delegates. This year’s Conference theme organized by the HCAP at the American University in Dubai is “Equality, Tolerance and Freedom: the Effect of Culture and Policy on a Globalized World”.

Dr. Chrabieh introduced first her audience to the concepts of policy, glocal citizen instead of global citizen and the peace process as she defined it based on four interdependent dynamics: peacekeeping, peacemaking, peacebuilding and inner peace. She then identified the major core values that drive or should drive Lebanese and Canadian foreign policies such as interreligious dialogue, democracy, human rights and interculturalism. She also tackled the issue of internal policy while focusing on the social-political diversity management systems in Lebanon, Canada and the United Arab Emirates. Dr. Chrabieh concluded with the UAE Ministry of Tolerance as an important example of how peace can be adopted as the organizing frame for governments’ policies.

“Tolerance is one of the major pillars in preserving and expanding peace. Definitely, citizens and expatriates are called to be agents of peace, peace builders, and to help the government in its task, first internally, and second, in exporting the model outside of the Emirati boundaries. Dubai in particular, where hundreds of ethnicities, religious and cultural identities are learning to coexist and more, to live with one another – just like we are trying to do at the American University in Dubai -, where glocal identities are reshaping their belongings and relationships, promises to offer this model to the region, and to the world”.

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