Message from the Director
Women Pioneers Who Changed the Arab World
The 57 Arab women pioneers profiled in the directory below might already be household names and some might be less known, however, they all deserve our attention. These pioneering figures changed their countries thanks to their enormous contributions to women’s rights, education, academia, health, science, politics, literature, art, architecture, media, aviation, and many other fields. They worked towards a future of equity, equality, and justice as basic values.
All of these agents of change are strong voices, tireless advocates, and major activists for reform in their countries with a common goal of advancing gender equality and women’s rights. Many of them persisted despite numerous social, cultural and political obstacles.
The writers, thinkers, and journalists among them helped ignite, through their articles and public speeches, the will of others to advocate for women’s rights.
The political activists led the way and traced a path where women could play new roles outside traditional roles and thereby helped guide their societies and countries in new directions.
The pioneer women scientists called on other scientists to protect against nuclear hazards, or worked with them on preventing diseases and expanding access to health services.
These pioneers founded civil society organizations, presided over universities, increased access to educational systems, reformed health systems, helped launch new movements, organized women’s marches, challenged traditional norms, and worked with leading national figures to improve the status of women and girls in their countries.
Each one of the 57 pioneers accomplished a first in her field. In the late 19th century and in most of the 20th century, it was highly unusual to find a female in many of the positions that these pioneers occupied.
Each of these women dared to be the first. Each of these women challenged convention, and stepped outside of expected roles, and thus created new opportunities for her sisters. Many of these pathfinders believed that the status quo was not an option.
These extraordinary women pushed society to think bigger, change some unfair norms and regulations, overcome barriers, break glass ceilings, and move forward. The 57 women in the directory are excellent examples of women with powerful visions, boundless courage, strong will, and inspiring determination to create a more equitable world. They changed the Arab world by transcending boundaries in their fields and by opening new paths for women and future generations. Thanks to each of them, women and girls are able to live with fewer restraints and greater dreams.
These pioneers are Arab history's greatest female role models.
Dr. Aisha Abdel Rahman
Dr. Aisha Abdel Rahman was a prominent literary figure in Egyptian and Arab culture. She wrote under the pseudonym Bint El-Shatei to avoid gender discrimination against her work. She began publishing a series of poems and articles in the Feminine Revival Magazine, later…
Dr. Sameera Moussa
Dr. Sameera Moussa was a world-renowned Egyptian nuclear scientist. Moussa held a doctorate in atomic radiation, specializing in making the medical use of nuclear technology affordable to all. She was the first assistant professor at the Faculty of Sciences at Cairo…
Dr. Nawal El Saadawi
Dr. Nawal El Saadawi is an internationally renowned author, creative writer, and fighter for women's rights. Her novels and books on women have been translated to thirty languages and studied in many universities. As a result of her courage to break political, sexual,…
Nazik al-Mala'ika was an Iraqi poet and critic, as well as a major advocate of the free verse movement in the late 1940s. Nazik al-Mala'ika started to write in her childhood, and at the age of ten she composed her first poem in classical Arabic. In 1968, she…
Dr. Naziha Jawdet Ashgah al-Dulaimi
Dr. Naziha Jawdet Ashgah al-Dulaimi was an early pioneer of the Iraqi feminist movement. She studied medicine at the Royal College of Medicine. At the age of 19, she was one of the few female medical students at the college. In 1941, she graduated as a medical doctor. After…
Zaha Hadid is considered to be one of the most innovative and radical contemporary architects, having employed her knowledge in mathematics and inspiration from modernist art to design and eventually construct organic architectural forms and absurdist spaces. Hadid won many…
Ina’am Qaddoura Al-Mufti
Ina'am Qaddoura Al-Mufti is the first Jordanian woman to hold a governmental position and was the first woman appointed to the Amman Municipal Council in 1980. Al-Mufti served as the Minister of Social Development from 1979 to 1984. During this time, she also established…
Ghanima Al-Marzouq was the first woman licensed publisher in Kuwait and across the gulf states. Al-Marzouq received her university education in Cairo, studying media. Upon her return to Kuwait in 1965, she established Osrati, which was the first magazine in the Gulf countries…
Zaynab Fawwaz was a Lebanese essayist, novelist, poet, and dramatist. She immigrated from south Lebanon to Egypt as a young woman and became a prominent writer on gender issues in the nationalist press.
As a young girl, she was taken into the local ruling household of…