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.
Myrna Bustani is a Lebanese business woman, philanthropist and socialite and was the first woman to serve in the Lebanese Parliament from 1963-1964, after she replaced her father as a member of the Lebanese parliament upon his death in a tragic plane accident in 1963. Bustani…
Raya El Hassan
Raya Haffar El Hassan is a Lebanese politician who has been appointed as the Minister of Interior and Municipalities in the 3rd Government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. She is the first Minister to be appointed in such a post in Lebanon and the Arab world.
Malika Al Fassi
Malika Al-Fassi was a pioneering Moroccan writer. She published under two pseudonyms, Bahithat alHadira and al-Fatah. In 1935, she began publishing articles and literary works, and was the first woman writer in Morocco in the modern period. She was educated in a traditional…
Touria Chaoui was the first Moroccan young woman to consider flying. She successfully became the first female pilot in Morocco. As the eldest daughter in her family, she was raised by her forward-thinking father to have similar freedoms as the young boys in the Kingdom. When…
Dr. Fatema Mernissi
Dr. Fatema Mernissi was a Moroccan feminist writer and sociologist and one of the founders of Islamic feminism. She studied political science at the Sorbonne and at Brandeis University, gaining her doctorate in 1957. Upon her return to Morocco, she was a lecturer at the…
Dr. Aïcha Belarbi
Dr. Aïcha Belarbi is the first Ambassador of Morocco to the European Union, one of the first women ministers in Morocco, a sociologist, and a professor and researcher at Mohammed V University in Rabat. She has a PhD in literature and humanities from the Sorbonne, and an MBA…
Dr. Merieme Chadid
Dr. Merieme Chadid is an explorer and astronomer. She is the first Moroccan to set foot on Antarctica, in 2005, thus marking the first Arab flag in Antarctica. Chadid pursued higher education at the Observatoire de Haute-Provence, obtaining a Phd in Astronomy and Space from…
Amna Mahmoud Al-Jaydah
Amna Mahmoud Al-Jaydah was considered Qatar's first female teacher, the first Qatari female principal for a government school for girls, and a pioneer in the struggle for female education in Qatar. Al-Jaydah attended the Sheikh Hamid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohamed kuttab, where…
Dr. Haifa Jamal Al-Lail
Dr. Haifa Jamal Al-Lail is the President of Effat University, Jeddah Saudi Arabia. She was awarded a PhD in Public Policy from the University of Southern California. Before joining Effat University in 1998, she served as the first Dean of Girls' Campus in King Abdulaziz…
Somayya Jabarti is the first ever female editor-in-chief of a newspaper in Saudi Arabia, and thus, a pioneer in her field. She broke down the barriers set up for women in her country, and set out for the top position in her career. According to Khaled Almaeena, she is…