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.
Raha Moharrak is the first Saudi Arabian and youngest Arab woman in the world to ever climb Mount Everest. She attained her Visual Communications degree from the American University of Sharjah in 2008 and works as a freelance graphic designer. However, from a young age,…
Maryana bint Fathallah bin Nasrallah Marrash
Maryana bint Fathallah bin Nasrallah Marrash was a Syrian writer and poet of the Nahda movement, the Arabic renaissance. Born in 1848 in Aleppo, she is credited for reviving the tradition of literary salons in Syria.
Marrash used her house as a meeting place for…
Nazik Khatim al-ʿAbid Bayhum
Nazik Khatim al-ʿAbid Bayhum was known as the "Joan of Arc of the Arabs" and as a women's rights activist and critic of Ottoman and French colonialism in Syria. She was the first woman to earn rank in the Syrian Arab Army for her role in forming the Red Star…
Mary ‘Ajamy was a leading woman figure who started the first women’s journal, The Bride in Damascus in 1910 under Ottoman Rule. In the next 20 years, women’s press flourished with new journals and writings surfacing from Beirut and Damascus, the two major cities of Lebanon…
Dr. Laurice Maher
Dr. Laurice Maher was the first woman graduate from the College of Medicine at Damascus University in 1930 and went on to become Syria's first woman medical doctor. She was one of the few women who were able to become a doctor in Syria and spoke at a 1932 feminist…
Dr. Najah Saati
Dr. Najah Saati was the first female pharmacist in Syria. She studied at the Department of Pharmacology at the Faculty of Medicine at Damascus University and graduated in 1949. She founded a pharmacy carrying her name, which remains operational until this day, more than 60…
Dr. Tawhida Belsheikh
Dr. Tawhida Belsheikh was the first female medical doctor in Tunisia. She received her Baccalaureate in 1928 from the Armand Valiere Institute, but only began her career path to the field of medicine upon meeting Ms. Burnet, the wife of French researcher and director of the…
Fethia Mokhtar Mzali
Fethia Mokhtar Mzali was the first Tunisian woman to obtain a degree in philosophy, she obtained it in 1952 from the prestigious Sorbonne university in Paris. Upon her return to Tunisia, Mzali worked as a teacher, then headmistress at the Teacher's College in Tunisia. In…
Maya Jribi was the first female leader of a political party in Tunisia. She studied biology and geology at the University of Sfax, and while there, became politically active, joining the student union and the Tunisian League of Human Rights. After graduating, she began…
Dr. Souad Yacoubi
Dr. Souad Yacoubi was appointed as the Minster of Public Health in 1983, alongside the appointment of Fethia Mokhtar Mzali to the Tunisian cabinet, making them the first two women appointed to the Tunisian cabinet.
Unlike Fethia Mokhtar Mzali, Yacoubi stayed in the…