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.
May Ziade was a key Lebanese figure in the Arab literary scene in the early 20th century who firmly established herself as a vibrant female voice in what was clearly a man's world at the time. She was a journalist, but also wrote fiction with strong female characters,…
Dr. Saniyya Habboub
Dr. Saniyya Habboub was the first Lebanese woman to study medicine abroad, and the only Arab graduate from the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, at that time. Habboub attended the American Junior College for Women, as well as the American University of Beirut (AUB…
Dr. Edma Abou Chedid
Dr. Edma Abou Chedid was the first woman awarded the degree of MD (Medical Doctor) from the American University of Beirut (AUB), in 1931. When she was 15 years old, she dared ask her father about going to the university to study medicine. He agreed without too much trouble.…
Loreen Rihani was the founder of the first Arabic magazine for children in Lebanon and was its editor-in-chief from 1955 until 1970. She graduated from the American University of Beirut (AUB) in the 1930s, and in 1955 the premiere issue of Dunia al-Ahdath was published. Dunia…
Anissa Rawda Najjar
Anissa Rawda Najjar was a pioneering Lebanese feminist and women's rights activist. She was one of the Arab world's first women journalists, writing for Al Ahliyah newsletter in 1931, and was the co-founder and longtime leader of the Village Development Association…
Dr. Salwa Nassar
Dr. Salwa Nassar was a Lebanese nuclear physicist and college administrator. She was the first Lebanese woman to earn a PhD in physics, and was also the first woman in the mathematics department at the American University of Beirut (AUB). She completed her doctoral studies at…
Dr. Jamal Karam Harfouche
Dr. Jamal Karam Harfouche was a 1935 America Junior College for Women graduate, a graduate of the American University of Beirut (AUB) with an MD in 1941, and a graduate of Harvard University with a PhD in public health in 1965. When she joined AUB, Harfouche was the only…
Saloua Raouda Choucair
Saloua Raouda Choucair was a Lebanese painter and sculptor. She was fiercely independent as a child, refusing to be pressed into feminine conformity, and becoming known as the neighborhood tomboy. During her philosophy studies at the American University of Beirut (AUB) from…
Dr. Zahia Kaddoura
Dr. Zahia Kaddoura was the first woman to be appointed to a senior post in a Lebanese university in her capacity as Dean of Literature and Human Sciences after a harsh battle within the university administration, and her endorsement by the cabinet in 1971. She was also the…
Laure Moghaizel was a major voice for women's rights in Lebanon, the Middle East, and the international community. In Lebanon, she struggled for half a century to reform legislation concerning women's rights and was an advocate for women's participation in…