We highlight the 26 Arab women who made the cut in BBC’s annual 100 Women initiative that honors inspirational and innovative women around the world over the past three years.
The women leading the charge for the Arab world in 2017 represent Morocco, Iraq and Qatar. All three are millennials.
Chaima Lahsini: 2017
Chaima Lahsini is a 24-year-old journalist, feminist and human rights activist from Rabat, Morocco. Lahsini writes for Morocco World News, and she uses her prominent role in the media to further women’s rights. In 2016, a high-profile case shook the nation; a disabled woman was sexually assaulted on a public bus in Morocco. Lahsini led the protests to bring the criminals to justice.
Nawaal Akram: 2017
Nawaal Akram is an 18-year-old Paralympic athlete and advocate for women with disabilities in the Middle East. The Qatari native turned to YouTube to challenge perceptions holding disabled people back in the region. Subsequently, she founded Muscular Dystrophy Qatar, a non-profit organization aimed at furthering research. Akram is also a comedian and fashion model.
The list challenges all 100 women to tackle the biggest barriers facing women today; the glass ceiling, female illiteracy, harassment in public spaces and sexism in sport.
Zainab Fadhal: 2017
When 16-year-old Zainab Fadhal moved to the UK three years ago, she barely knew any English. Now, the Iraqi native’s academic brilliance placed her on the BBC’s 100 Women list. Fadhal hopes to study criminal psychology in the future.
The list challenges all 100 women to tackle four of the biggest problems facing women today, according to the BBC. These barriers include the glass ceiling, female illiteracy, harassment in public spaces and sexism in sport.
In 2016, the BBC 100 Women list included 11 Arab leaders from Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen, and Egypt.
Amna Suleiman: 2016
Amna Suleiman is a teacher and impassioned advocate for women. She broke regional taboos against female cyclists by cycling with friends from Gaza’s southern tip to Gaza City in protest.
Amy Roko: 2016
25-year-old Niqaabi comedian, Amy Roko is breaking stereotypes through social media. Roko is a rising Instagram comedy star in the GCC.
Ashwaq Moharram: 2016
Ashwaq Moharram is a Yemeni doctor who braved conflict in her native land to help others. Her family fled Yemen when the conflict broke out, but Moharram stayed back to tend to patients, using her car as a clinic.
Carolina de Oliveira: 2016
Dalia Sabri: 2016
Dalia Sabri is a music teacher in Jordan. When she was a child, a medical mistake nearly blinded Sabri. Now she’s setting up an orchestra to empower blind children in Jordan through music.
Doaa el-Adl: 2016
Egyptian cartoonist Doaa el-Adl is an established pioneer in a vocation that has long been male-dominated. She believes that art is the best way to break taboos, including gender stereotypes.
Liliane Landor: 2016
Lebanon-born Liliane Landor worked as a BBC journalist for 26 years. As the head of languages at the World Service, Landor helped diversify the media outlet. She introduced different voices, faces, and accents on BBC News with whom listeners can identify.
Lubna Tahtamouni: 2016
Lubna Tahtamouni is a biology professor in Jordan. She actively campaigns for women to choose careers in science and mathematics.
Nay el-Rahi: 2016
Lebanese journalist Nay el-Rahi co-founded HarassTracker.org, a website which tracks harassment in Lebanon.
Um-Yehia was an accountant by profession until conflict struck Syria. She then retrained as a nurse to help victims in Aleppo.
Yasmine Mustafa: 2016
Kuwaiti entrepreneur, Yasmine Mustafa founded self-defense wearable technology for women. Her business, ROAR for Good is aimed at empowering women to take charge of their safety.
Muzzon al-Mellehan: 2015
Muzzon al-Mellehan fled with her parents and three younger siblings to Jordan in 2013 and lives in al-Azraq refugee camp.
Fondly referred to as the ‘Malala of Syria’, al-Mellehan works to keep Syrian girls like her in the camp’s makeshift school, rather than being married off.
Siba Alaradi: 2015
Siba Alaradi is a structural engineer by profession. Her family fled from war-torn Damascus to Istanbul, which made her feel displaced, like thousands of others. Upon discovering a community center in Istanbul for Syrians displaced by the war, Alaradi had the opportunity to work with children, and to give something back to that community.
Sana Ben Ashour: 2015
Sana Ben Ashour founded women’s shelter BEITY (translation: My Home) in 2012, which is a unique shelter for single mothers and other women in need, including the poor and abused.
The Tunisian organization came about when Ben Ashour was struck by her community’s attitudes towards displaced women.
Jana el-Hassan: 2015
Jana el-Hassan is an author, best known for her first novel, Forbidden Desires, published in 2009. She was raised in rural Egypt, and against all odds, went on to win the local Simon Hayek Prize.
El-Hassan’s newer novels have been shortlisted for the International Prize for Arab Fiction in 2013 and 2015. Her work is being translated into English and Italian as she rises through the ranks as a voice for modern Arab literature.
Nawal el-Saadawi: 2015
Nawal el-Saadawi is an Egyptian novelist and an impassioned advocate for women’s rights in her country. She has more than 40 books to her name, all of which explore the role and expectations of being a woman in modern Egypt.
Her most controversial book, Women and Sex, was banned in Egypt for nearly two decades, as it tackled the issue of repressed female sexuality and genital mutilation.
Elissa Freiha: 2015
Elissa Freiha is the co-founder of WOMENA, an incubator for female-led start-ups in the Middle East. The platform encourages investors to back these businesses, especially since women entrepreneurs around the world consistently face biases and barriers when securing growth capital.
Freiha was recently named as one of Forbes’ Middle East’s Inspiring Business Leaders of the UAE.
Somayya Jabarti: 2015
Somayya Jabarti is a Saudi journalist at the kingdom’s longest-running newspaper, the Saudi Gazette. She is Saudi Arabia’s first ever female editor in chief at the helm of the Jeddah-based English daily.
When she took the job, she said that “there’s a crack that has been made in the glass ceiling. And I’m hoping it will be made into a door.”
Azza Jadalla: 2015
Azza Jadalla is one of the youngest heads of a hospital ward in Gaza City’s Shifa practice.
Jadalla works as a cancer nurse in the hematology ward, where she faces a number of challenges, including unpredictable electricity cuts, supply shortages and being understaffed.
“Sometimes we go for two or three months without pay,” she tells the BBC. “But this doesn’t make me want to do my job any less because it’s not the patient’s fault.”
Amina Sboui: 2015
In 2013, Amina Sboui made headlines by publishing a topless photograph of herself on Facebook. Her political statement was written across her torso; “my body belongs to me and is not the source of anyone’s honor.”
Sboui was jailed for feminist graffiti, after which the Tunisian native moved to Paris to study. She has recently returned to Tunisia, where she heads up one of the region’s first feminist magazine of its kind.
Nareen Shammo: 2015
Nareen Shammo is an Iraqi journalist who has dedicated herself to freeing Yazidi women captured by ‘Islamic State’ militants.
Yazidis are an ethnic and religious minority in Iraq. Since the rise of ISIS, hundreds of thousands of Yazidi women have been sold as slaves, raped, abused, made to renounce their religion and convert to Islam. Shammo has freed hundreds of women from that plight over the years.
Rasha Shehada: 2015
Rasha Shehada is the managing director of Diamond Line FZE, a family-owned hotel equipment supplies business in the UAE.
Shehada joined the family business to ride the hospitality boom in the region. The company started off with a focus on hotel supplies and now also has a manufacturing plant which produces chafing fuels which can be burned in small canisters and used for heating catered food.
Rotana Tarabzouni: 2015
Rotana Tarabzouni is a prominent advocate for women in Saudi. As early as in 2013, Tarabzouni campaigned for women to drive in Saudi Arabia. The singer currently lives in LA and composes music about the challenges in the Arab world. With the recent mandate that allows women in Saudi behind the wheel, Tarabzouni may return to her native land.