Expo 2020 and Cartier celebrate the official inauguration of the Women’s Pavilion


Expo 2020 Dubai and Cartier celebrated the official inauguration of the Women’s Pavilion in a spectacular celebration at Al Wasl Plaza, held under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, President of the UAE Gender Balance Council and President of the Dubai Women Establishment.

The event was inaugurated by Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation and Director General, Expo 2020 Dubai; Her Excellency Mona Ghanem Al Marri, Director General of the Government of Dubai Media Office and Vice President of the UAE Gender Balance Council; and Cyrille Vigneron, President and CEO of Cartier International. 

The four artists commissioned to curate and design the Pavilion, Laura Gonzalez, eL Seed, Nadine Labaki and Mélanie Laurent along with ‘Friends of the Maison’ Monica Belluci, Vanessa Kirby, Ramla Ali, and Amira Casar, Yasmine Sabry, Fatima Albanawi, Dhafer L’Abidine, Fouz Al Fahad, Farida Khelfa and Elisa Sednaoui were also among the guests in attendance.

Under the exhibition titled "New Perspectives", the Women’s Pavilion by Expo 2020, organised in collaboration with Cartier, invites visitors to celebrate and recognize the central role women have played throughout history, leading up to the present day. By showcasing these contributions, as well as the challenges that women around the word still face, the Pavilion seeks to amplify an important principle: when women thrive, humanity thrives. 

Inaugurating the event, Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimy said: ”The UAE has placed gender equality and women’s empowerment at the core of its ethos since its founding, recognising the immense potential of women to contribute to the nation’s rapid advancement – a belief that is echoed globally as crucial for sustainable development. 

“We will soon mark the beginning of another 50 years of prosperity for the UAE, and we are emboldened by the stories of Arab and Muslim female trail-blazers from centuries past and present, brought to life in Expo 2020’s Women’s Pavilion. Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes, Expo 2020 reinforces the critical role of gender equality and women’s empowerment in safeguarding the future of humanity and our planet – and we welcome the world to engage with the Women’s Pavilion, reminding us all that every person has a role to play in the journey ahead.”

Cyrille Vigneron added: “The path to gender equality is a long path and the worst thing we could do is regress. All countries are moving in their own way but we also see regression when it comes to gender equality. We have to move forward from wherever we start, and that’s a place to rejoice and celebrate.” 

Her Excellency Mona Ghanem Al Marri, Director General of the Government of Dubai Media Office and Vice President of the UAE Gender Balance Council, said the first ever Expo pavilion dedicated to recognising the contributions of women builds on the progress the UAE has made in enhancing women’s role in both national progress and social development over the past 50 years. “Our gathering today demonstrates how Dubai is connecting different cultures and markets and offering a platform for forging new worldwide partnerships to address global issues. Expo 2020 Dubai is the first World Expo to have a pavilion dedicated to women with the aim of challenging stereotypes and unlocking new opportunities.”

Her Excellency further said: “Though governments play a significant role in advancing women’s empowerment, they cannot succeed without meaningful collaborations with the private sector, civil societies, and committed individuals. Improved gender equality, which in turn accelerates economic growth and prosperity, is one of the many outcomes that such partnerships bring. Our leadership’s remarkable vision and unwavering support over the past 50 years has created a strong nation that today is a global model for sustainable people-centred growth and women’s development. Today, the UAE leads the region in female empowerment according to the UN, and the country is committed to further raising gender equality benchmarks as part of its ambitious future vision and strategy.”

In her address, Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, reminded the audience of the impact women can make when they are put in positions of power and influence. 

A two-day program of art, celebration and discussions
Liz Bohannon, a social entrepreneur and former Cartier Women’s Initiative fellow, who has been working to develop businesses that can solve some of the most pressing challenges facing women and girls across the globe, hosted the evening. Guests enjoyed an evening of breathtaking performances by the artist and ‘Friend of the Maison’ Diana Vishneva, Russian Prima ballerina of Mariinsky theater and Denis Savin, principal dancer of the Bolshoi theater. Diana and Denis performed a lyrical homage to the greatest ballerina of the 20th century Maya Plisetskaya.

Sudanese-American poet and activist Emi Mahmoud left the audience in awe with a powerful spoken word poem celebrating the strength and resilience of women. Concluding the evening was a stunning musical performance by the celebrated pianist Khatia Buniatishvili and a children’s choir from La Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine de l’Opera National de Paris. 

The two-day opening programme also included a series of specially curated talks with influential leaders and speakers from a variety of sectors and backgrounds, all addressing women’s empowerment from different perspectives. 

Hind Alowais, Vice President of the International Participants Department at Expo 2020 Dubai, moderated a conversation between Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former Executive Director of UN Women, and Cyrille Vigneron, focused on the ripple effect that women’s empowerment has on society, ultimately demonstrating that women’s advancement is key to solving the world’s most pressing issues. 

Highlighting the central role of women in maintaining peace and stable societies, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Former Prime Minister of France and President of Leaders pour la Paix, gave the keynote introduction to the talk dedicated to Women and Peace. This was followed by a conversation with Irina Bokova, Former Director General of UNESCO; Zarifa Ghafari, activist and politician, youngest Afghan mayor; and Donia Kaouach, Managing Director of Leaders pour la Paix and President of Tunisiennes Fières. 

French-Algerian documentary filmmaker Farida Khelfa led a talk on reimagining education systems with the friend of the Maison Ramla Ali, Somali professional boxer, model, author and racial equality activist; Audrey Cheng, Cartier Women’s Initiative fellow and Founder & Board member of Moringa School, and Lin Kobayashi, Co-founder and Chair of the Board of UWC ISAK Japan. Creating new innovative paths to equip girls with the knowledge and skills to thrive was a key topic of conversation. 

The day concluded with a conversation on climate change and the role artists and activists can play in raising awareness on one of the most critical issues facing our planet. Vanessa Kirby, actress and film producer, engaged with Salma Abdulai, Founder and CEO of Amaati Co; Kate Horner, Deputy Executive Director of Amazon Frontlines; Mélanie Laurent, actress, screenwriter and director; Thyago Nogueira, curator of the exhibition "Claudia Andujar, the Yanomami Struggle"; and Nemonte Nenquimo, Leader of the Waorani and activist, supported by Amazon Frontlines.

A curated experience by diverse creators
Drawing on Cartier’s role in supporting artistic expression, a diverse community of creators and artists were brought on to contribute to the design and curation of the Women’s Pavilion. Interior architect Laura Gonzalez, together with Dubai born artist Kholoud Sharafi and French light designer Pauline David, designed the upper part of the façade. Commenting on her contribution, Laura stated: “When Cartier approached me to design the façade of the Women’s Pavilion, this project represented the fact that all women can achieve their dreams. The first impression is very important so I’m very grateful for this opportunity.” 

French Tunisian artist eL Seed’s unique calligraphy took over the lower part of the façade. He noted that: “The façade was a platform to amplify the voice of women in Nepal and to tell a story. I linked the façade to a ‘calligraffiti’ project I created in a small village, located two to three hours’ drive from Kathmandu, which was rebuilt entirely by women using earthquake-resistant bricks, following the earthquake in 2015 in Nepal.” 

Nadine Labaki, Lebanese actress and the first female Arab director to be nominated for an Oscar in the category for Best Foreign Language Film, directed the short film featured as guests enter the pavilion where she highlights the meaning of gender equality through the lens of young activists from around the world. “We need to start thinking in alternative ways and explore how the world can transition to where it should be. The pandemic revealed a lot of failures in our system and things that need to change – the short documentary that I worked on for the Women’s Pavilion provided an opportunity to hop on this train of alternative thinking and start the journey.” she said.  

French actress, screenwriter and director Mélanie Laurent took over the second floor of the pavilion to curate an immersive exhibition fostering dialogues across cultural, artistic, and social fields in three sections. She highlighted that “Today is better; we have opportunities and we have fought so hard not to have to make this choice for real. Let’s hope that for tomorrow, everyone will have the same freedoms.”