Different Dialogues : | Dr. Rafia Gubhash

In conversation with Dr. Rafia Ghubash – Founder of Women’s Museum, Dubai, U.A.E.


Educational Background: PhD in epidemiological psychiatry from London University.

Professional Background:  Lecturer, researcher, clinical practitioner.  She was the Vice Dean and the Dean of the Medical School in Al Ain in 2001.  From 2001-2009, she undertook the position of president of a GCC institution: The Arabian Gulf University.


Months ago – after I arranged a meeting with Dr. Rafia Ghubash (the founder of the Women’s Museum in Dubai), I went to see her at the premises where the Women’s Museum at Bait Al Banat is situated. Bait Al Banat is a house of historical importance dating from the 1950’s; its name literally translates as The Girls Museum.


So, to meet Dr. Rafia Ghubash, one crisp-cool January evening, I take a short walk to the lane which will lead me to the venue of my interview. Cars are not permitted for either entry, or, exit. The lane is busy, but not crowded.  In a way, the shops there have remained isolated, associating mainly with small specialties of trade handed over to the present owners by their late forefathers.  It is quite apparent that no outlets are springing up here to assimilate the new and rapid change that is overtaking the whole of UAE.  In this locality, except for prime restoration – the flavor of old times can be savored by the locals and tourists.  The proof of this is more pronounced once I arrive at the Women’s Museum.


At the door of a well-preserved building, I am welcomed by two ladies. This is the entrance.  I am standing at the entrance of Bait Al Banat. I cannot avert my eyes now – a talkative group of non-locals have filled the space, enjoying the hospitality of the hostess – Dr. Rafia Ghubash. The aroma of the food is in the wintery air!


Amidst the gathering, I ask about Dr. Rafia Ghubash. ‘I am Rafia Ghubash.  Please do take a plate and join everyone.  I, promise to be with you, later,’ the lady tells me with warmth.


The scene featured people from different nationalities. My conversation was with an architect form Lebanon.  We feasted on the snacks, drank tea, talked about the Women’s Museum, and showered compliments on the growth of UAE, especially, the progress made by the female population. 


Professor Rafia Ghubash has played a vital role in the empowerment of women in UAE.  Along with her academic achievements, which include teaching, research and clinical practice – Dr. Rafia Ghubash also possesses strong administrative experience because she has held a variety of managerial positions.  She was the Vice Dean and the Dean of the Medical School in Al Ain in 2001.  From 2001-2009, she undertook the position of president of a GCC institution: The Arabian Gulf University. During her successful tenure, Dr. Rafia Ghubash worked diligently to raise the profile of AGU – nationally and internationally.  Through her role as the president of the Arab Network for Women in Science and Technology, she has uplifted the position of women in Arab world.


The Women’s Museum founded in 1950 by Dr. Rafia Ghubash is a national archive and documentation centre, dedicated to the women of the UAE. 


I have visited the place a couple of times – it is worth the visit! Here, visitors can gain knowledge on the multi-faceted aspects that covered the lives of Emirati women who contributed in making important historical, chapters of the nation. 


In 1992, When Dr. Rafia Ghubash returned home to the UAE with a PhD in epidemiological psychiatry from London University to start her academic career as an assistant professor of Psychiatry, in the newly established school of medicine of the UAE University in Al Ain – the idea of creating a museum had already began to dominate in her mind.


Today, with her dream realized – at Bait Al Banat, the Women’s Museum is the first and only one-of-its-kind in the entire Arab region, and ranks 4th among the world’s prominent women museums.


I asked Dr. Rafia Ghubash if she was always “brimming with creativity”.  The Professor replied, “I cannot remember how many projects I did since childhood.  My mind was always working on projects.”


What gave the passion to Dr. Rafia Ghubash to make the Woman’s Museum?


She says, ‘I felt, I had to do something, give something to my people.’


My next question to her was: ‘Why this particular area? Was there any special attachment to her premises?’ She replied, ‘I grew up in this part of Dubai, we were born here. I saw, my parents, grand parents.’ She was concentrating on her words. ‘This is my feeling that people must remember to come to their roots.’


Bait Al Banat was bought by Dr. Rafia Ghubash in 2006.  Painstakingly, she spruced up this place with research, artifacts and careful renovations.  Originally, the property belonged to “all-female-residents” and well-matches its present stature by highlighting, exclusively, the various roles played by women of UAE!


As a contemporary cultural centre, the Women’s Museum explores the activities of Emirati women in different fields of arts, culture and academia. The aim is to acquaint the visitors in UAE with the various aspects of the daily lives of women in UAE.  As they enter, series of pictorial images of past inhabitants, alongside public documents, and poems, recall the lives of the Emiratis. 


The typical schedule of Dr. Rafia Ghubash is hectic lecturing in politics, education, women’s issues and psychiatry. She travels within Middle East and elsewhere.


‘Psychiatry is useful always. Now it is becoming ‘fashionable’ – as many celebrities avail of it,’ the professor shares the reality with me.


Time goes fast! The little girl who grew up on the shores of the Creek – the aquatic zone of water that is known as Deira – the same little girl grew up to fulfill many of her dreams… one among them was to create the Women’s Museum in the earth land of her country.


Who nurtured her imagination and the expression of her thought to undertake enterprising activities? Dr. Rafia Ghubash gives credit to her mother – a woman who must have influenced her daughter to be what she is now.


The essence of my narration brings to my mind the image of the late president of UAE – His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.  He promoted women to be a part of the mainstream – the workforce.  Women like Dr. Rafia Ghubash are following the noble sentiments of wise men – bringing extensive changes to compliment the nation-building-vision of UAE. Dr. Rafia Ghubash is among the new deliverers expanding our consciousness to see a valuable future. 


Q1. What has been the turning point of your life?

A   In every stage in my life there is one turning point. Being daughter of a great woman. Studying medicine instead of political science and journalism.  Moving to live in Egypt when I was 17 years old – coming from very strict traditional family. Appointed as president for a regional university and finally writing and publishing books about the Emirati poets.  And then go to the journey of establishing the Women Museum.  Readers can read more about this if they visit the website.


Q2.  If you could go back in time, what would you want to do?

A   Nothing. I enjoyed all what God planned for me.


Q3.  What are your future dreams?

A   On the personal level: I don’t dream – I do what I think every day.  Overall my concern is How and When the mad power creating the war everywhere is going to demolish.  That is my Dream to see the earth without them.


To know more about Dr. Rafia Ghubash, kindly click on http://alshindagah.com/en/article/en-us/13/13/16/24/152/inspiring-women-dr-rafia-ghubash-preserving-the-history-of-the-uae-piece-by-piece.