In no particular order we present a small selection of the brightest and best of the region’s exceptional women, people who continue to shape the development and growth of The Middle East’s progress and to chart its future.
(YEMEN) Tawakkul Karman
Yemen’s first and only Nobel Peace Prize winner, the first Arab woman recipient, the second Muslim and the youngest person ever to be awarded the accolade at aged just 32, Tawakkul Karman, spends her time travelling the world raising the profile of her homeland and promoting her moderate political party, Al Islah. As a journalists and human rights activist, particularly dedicated to the cause of women, Karman has been working hard to promote freedom of speech. In 2005, she co-founded the campaigning group Women Journalists Without Chains but really hit the international headlines in 2011, when she led a series of protests calling for the departure of Yemeni President Saleh
(QATAR) Sheikha Maha Mansour Salman Jasim Al Thani
Only a decade after Qatar appointed its first female lawyer, Sheikha Maha made history by becoming the country’s first woman judge in 2010. She was sworn in by the head of the Supreme Judicial Council, a moment she described as “a dream come true”.
In remarks to the media, Sheikha Maha, a graduate of Qatar University, who was once employed as an assistant magistrate in the courts, said she was proud to be the first woman to enter the judiciary and hoped others would follow.
(UAE) Dr. Amal Al Qubaisi
Made history in 2009, by becoming the first Emirati woman ever to be elected to the UAE’s Federal National Council (FNC), following a public election. And in 2013, she achieved another milestone by becoming the first woman to chair a session of the FNC, deputising for the speaker. A former architect, who has worked to document and preserve some of the UAE’s most impressive heritage sites, in addition to representing Abu Dhabi at the FNC she has a special interest in education and youth issues.
(LEBANON) Hayla Hayek
Nayla Hayek was elected chairwoman of the Swatch Group, the largest manufacturer of finished watches in the world, in July 2010. Hayek, whose father co-founded the company, has been an active member of the board since 1995. Swatch’s importance lies not just in the fact that it is such a huge manufacturer; it makes most of the parts that make other Swiss watches tick. Hayek, who is also an international Arabian horse judge, splits her time between Switzerland and Dubai.
(UAE) Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi
Is among a growing number of Emirati women making a significant impression in both the domestic and international arenas. She graduated in the US with a BSc in computer science, and holds an Executive MBA from the American University of Sharjah. With her 2004 appointment as Minister of Economy & Planning she became the first woman to hold a ministerial post in the UAE. She is currently Minister for Foreign Trade.
(SAUDI ARABIA) Dr Mona Al Munajjed
is Saudi Arabia’s foremost sociologist and also a high-profile women’s activist, who has spent 15 years working and advising various UN international agencies, including UNICEF. Some of of her work has involved helping local NGOs in Saudi Arabia, providing technical assistance and advisory services to women’s welfare associations . She gained her extensive training at home and in the United States.
(SAUDI ARABIA) Badriya Al Bishr
Is one of a number of Saudi women making waves in their country’s media. A columnist for Al Hayat newspaper, she has won several awards for her provocative opinion pieces, and is a frequent lecturer overseas. She has been outspoken on a number of high-profile issues, including the recent decision to electronically monitor Saudi women who are leaving the country. Last year, she was banned from entering Kuwait to promote her new book
(IRAQ) Zahar Hadid
Is an Iraqi-British architect who constantly pushes the boundaries of architecture and urban design. In 2004 she became the first female and first Muslim recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, architecture’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Hadid was then awarded the coveted Stirling Prize “for excellence in architecture” in 2010 and 2011. Her buildings are distinctively futuristic, characterized by the powerful, curving forms of her elongated structures. She is a member of the editorial board of the Encyclopædia Britannica and in 2006, was honoured with a retrospective spanning her entire work at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
(JORDAN) Randa Ayoubi
The CEO of Rubicon Group Holding, was awarded the title of Businesswomen of the Year 2010 in recognition of her pioneering commitment to the digital content and entertainment industry in the Middle East. In 2004, she established Rubicon Holdings, an Amman-based entertainment company, now a global powerhouse with five international branches and more than 300 employees. Rubicon Holdings produces hits such as Ben & Izzy, a children’s cartoon series promoting cross-cultural understanding.
(SAUDI ARABIA) lubna Suliman Olayan
Is Saudi Arabia’s most widely known and influential business woman and one of the most powerful business people in the world. A charismatic speaker, Ms. Olayan was the first woman in Saudi history to deliver an opening keynote address at a major conference in Saudi Arabia; the Jeddah Economic Forum. An advocate for progressive business practices in the Middle East, she credits her success to her late father, who encouraged her to join the family company in 1983.
(UAE) Fatima Al Jaber
As chief operating officer of Abu Dhabi’s Al Jaber Group, one of the UAE’s top companies, she oversees more than 60,000 staff and manages around $4.9bn in assets. The conglomerate, which has built a number of iconic projects across the UAE, was founded by her father, 40 years ago. She is a regular speaker at business conferences, a high profile ambassador for women in the workplace and became the first woman elected to the board of directors at the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce in 2009.
(KUWAIT) Suad Al Humaidi
Is an ambassador for businesswomen across the region, with her diverse range of financial interests. In addition to owning group commercial and residential complexes in her homeland, she is also a member of The Property Owners Union in Kuwait. Al Humaidi is president of the Suad Al Humaidi Group of Companies and a member of the board of management for Sradar (Audi Bank) in Lebanon, she owns a stake in several banks across Kuwait, including the National Bank of Kuwait and a residential tower in Beirut.
Yousra is perhaps the Arab world’s current biggest female entertainment superstar.
She first started making films in the 1970s, and quickly developed a strong working relationship with the legendary Egyptian actor Adel Imam. Her best-known collaborations were with the legendary Egyptian director Youssef Chahine, with whom she made three films. Yousra’s has also starred a number of popular TV shows and had a supporting role in the 2006 blockbuster The Yacoubian Building.
(PAKISTAN) Malala Yousafzai
This schoolgirl activist became known for her crusading for educational rights for girls and women, particularly in Pakistan. In early 2009, at aged 11, she blogged under a pseudonym for the BBC detailing her life under Taliban rule. As she rose in prominence, giving interviews in print and on television, and she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu. In October 2012, she was shot in an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen while on a school bus. She was in a critical condition, but improved sufficiently to be sent to England, for intensive rehabilitation. She continues to be an active campaigner.
(UAE) Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi
Founded Kalimat publishing in 2007 in an attempt to develop and nurture publishing in the UAE. Kalimat was intended to fill a gap in the market for good Arabic children’s books. Seven years later, it has published over 120 titles and won various awards at regional and international book fairs. She initiated a project which allows all local families to receive a collection of free books; has championed the rights of women in Sharjah and also heads the Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq).
(OMAN) Rahilah bint Amir Al Riyami
Was among two women elected to the fourth term of the Majlis a’Shura in 2001 and appointed a member of Oman’s State Council in 2007. She also heads the Women and Children Council In 1974, she joined the Ministry of Education where she served as head of the private education department until 1978. Later, becoming director of the public education department from 1978 to 1980 and the director of Oman’s education planning department from 1980 to 1996.
(EGYPT) Nawal El Saadawi
This grande dame of Arab literature and progressive thinking is a novelist, a playwright, a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, a non-fiction writer and lifelong political activist. Her seemingly tireless pursuit of truth and justice is an inspiration to millions.Her novels and books on the situation of women and society are written in Arabic and translated into as many as 30 languages. She actively participated in the Arab Spring uprisings and has vowed never to give up the struggle for truth and democracy.
(IRAN) Shirin Ebadi
An Iranian lawyer and former judge, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her pioneering efforts to promote democracy and human rights, particularly for women and children. She was the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to receive the award. Ebadi’s outspoken campaigns have often brought her into conflict with the Iranian government and the country’s conservative clerics. Although she has not been arrested since becoming a Nobel laureate, she was forced into exile from her homeland.
(LEBANON) Nancy Ajram
Lebanese superstar Nancy Ajram is one of the most successful Arab singers of contemporary times. With eight albums and numerous chart-topping singles to her name, she is widely to be among the top Arabic music icons of the decade.
In 2008 she was named the best-selling artist in the Middle East at the World Music Awards, and two years later achieved wide acclaim when she sang ‘Wavin’ Flag’ for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. American TV icon Oprah Winfrey has branded Ajram one of the most influential personalities in the Middle East for highlighting the aspirations and many positive achievements of Arab women globally.
(JORDAN) Queen Rania
Has campaigned tirelessly for rights for women, children and improved education standards. She was the architect of the Madrasati initiative, aimed at renovating Jordan’s most dilapidated public schools and is a keen supporter of micro-finance initiatives. In March 2008, she launched her own channel on the video-sharing website YouTube. Her warm, informal style has made her a firm favourite internationally although her good intentions are not always fully understood or appreciated at home. As an Arab, Muslim woman, a wife and mother, Queen Rania is committed to reconciling people of different faiths and cultures by encouraging cross-cultural dialogue, particularly amongst young people.
(BAHRAIN) Maryam Al Khawaja
Is acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BHCR). The Bahraini government reacted to large-scale peaceful demonstrations in early 2001 with a crackdown on political dissent and human rights activism. Many of the leaders of the 2011 protests remain in prison with estimates of thousands of others also jailed for protest-related activities. Al Khawaja continues to work for their release. “You can imprison the revolutionary, but you cannot imprison the revolution. You can imprison the human rights defender, but you are only creating a path for hundreds of new human rights defenders,” she notes.
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