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.
United Arab Emirates
Nayla Al Khaja
Nayla Al Khaja is the first woman film Director/Producer in the United Arab Emirates. She is the CEO of Nayla Al Khaja Films and founder of The Scene Club, Dubai’s first film club, launched in 2007.
Karimeh Abbud was the first woman professional photographer in the Arab world. In 1913 on her 17th birthday, she received a camera as a gift from her father. Her interest in photography manifested itself in capturing her family, friends, and the landscapes of Palestine in her…
Fadwa Tuqan was a Palestinian poet who forcefully expressed a nation's sense of loss and defiance. Her works trace the evolution of Palestinian political consciousness: from shock, despair and victimhood, to summud (steadfastness), resistance and renewed pride. Tuqan…
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi is a distinguished Palestinian leader, legislator, activist, and scholar who served as a member of the Leadership Committee and as an official spokesperson of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace process, beginning with the Madrid Peace…
Judge Kholoud Al-Faqih
Judge Kholoud Al-Faqih made history in 2009 when she was appointed as an Islamic judge in Palestine, becoming the first woman Sharia law judge in the Middle East.
Al-Faqih obtained two degrees from the University of Jerusalem, with Honors, and received her licence in…
Ramziya Al-Iryani was the first Yemeni woman to publish a novel, and a pioneering novelist, writer, diplomat, and human rights leader. Hailing from the Ibb province, she completed high school in Taiz and received her bachelor's degree in philosophy at Cairo University in…
Dr. Amatalrauf “Raufa Hassan” al-Sharki
Dr. Amatalrauf "Raufa Hassan" al-Sharki was the first woman journalist in Yemen. She was a Yemeni educator, feminist, and human rights activist. She was a professor of mass media and the director of a Women's Studies Center at the University of Sana'a. Her…