Image 1 of 12: Notorious for starting an automotive movement that still has the clout to drive change for Saudi women, Manal Al Sharif led the #women2drive effort that invited KSA ladies to take the wheel in protest against the ban. Fearless & feisty, Manal is standing up to Saudi's stance, gearing up the women’s rights movement in the desert Kingdom.
Image 1 of 12: Former FEMEN member Amina Sboui caused controversy in Tunisia and beyond after she posted a series of naked photos of herself online with‘f**k your morals’ scrawled across her chest. Amina was behind bars for nearly 2 months but she hasn’t given up all her Arab sensibilities - she recently quit FEMEN over the group’s ‘Islamophobia’.
Image 1 of 12: Marina Nemat cast off the shackles of being a “Prisoner in Tehran” with her best-selling memoir about growing up in the Persian state. Marina gave a voice to the many injustices in the Islamic Republic - her protests earned her a brief jail spell and a narrow escape from the death penalty.
Image 1 of 12: The daughter of Holocaust survivors and a conscientious Israeli, Amira Hass made waves when she decided that writing about the plight of the Palestinians was not enough and decided to live among them in the West Bank. Her candid journalism has angered both Zionists and Islamists -- she ended up with a death threat for criticizing Hamas in 2008!
Image 1 of 12: Malala Yousafzai gained international recognition after being shot by the Taliban on her walk home from school. Having written for the BBC under a pseudonym about the difficulties of obtaining an education under Taliban rule, she has become an international symbol against the Taliban and at just 16 brave teenage champion of the female condition.
Image 1 of 12: Noorjahan Akbar has become the poster girl for equal rights in Afghanistan, tirelessly campaigning for women’s rights at home. She led Afghanistan’s first ever protest against street harassment and vocalised the injustices in the state’s social system -- prolifically blogging about the major issues facing her sex.
Image 1 of 12: Zainab Al Kawaja under the nom de guerre AngryArabiya took on Bahrain's government on social media and went on hunger strike. With 13+ lawsuits against her, Zainab was arrested for “insulting a police officer” and with Amnesty International calling for her release this young lass can be proud of causing sand storms beyond the tiny Gulf kingdom.
Image 1 of 12: Tal Al Mollohi wrote poems about Palestine and blogs about Syria’s future in protest at the violence erupting at home in Syria. Government authorities sentenced her to 5 years in prison, accusing her of being a US spy. Missing in action, the 22 year-old has sparked several major rallies across Syria and the Arab world.
Image 1 of 12: The face of the Libyan revolution, Iman Al Obeidi proved she was one tough cookie when she dramatically exposed the brutality of the Gaddafi regime by bursting into a press conference and recounting her gang rape. Imprisoned by the government, Iman’s name has become synonymous with defiance against brutality and rape protest.
Image 1 of 12: Not only was Nadia Al Sakkaf a leading voice for women in the myriad of media covered gender issues in Yemen, she also managed to get backing for publications through the Yemen Times that shined a spotlight on female politicians and the trials and tribulations they face attempting office.
Image 1 of 12: Sihem Bensedrine has been through the wringer in the news after “giving false reports on the human rights violations” for 20 years under the rule of Tunisian dictator Ben Ali. Awarded the "Special Award for Human Rights Journalism Under Threat" whilst under arrest, Sihem tirelessly resisted the brutal regime crackdown, early in the Arab Spring.
Image 1 of 12: Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin was killed in action whilst writing on the brutalities of the Syrian conflict in Homs. A talented wartime correspondent, Colvin’s last report on the desperate fate of those in the besieged northern Syrian city is a landmark piece of journalism and her war-courage scored her scores of posthumous accolades.
James Brown might have sung that “It’s a man’s man’s world”, but he couldn’t have been more wrong! (and he knew it too with his concessionary -- but it ain’t nothing, without you)
The Middle East might be dominated by tyrant dictators (looking at you, Assad) and Sheikhs issuing fatwas every half an hour, but there’s a new vanguard in the region made up of strong, powerful women who are causing a stir amongst the patriarchs.
There are plenty of issues to go around in the Middle East and each one of these fearsome matrons have stood up for what they believed in and made a difference. Whether it is the two state solution in Palestine or being arrested for writing about the Arab Spring, these girls have made a difference in a region where some believe women should be seen (behind a veil) and not seen.
Being a female in the Arab world can be a struggle for locals and expats alike - widespread patriarchy, sexual harassment and outdated discriminatory cultural norms can make even going supermarket shopping an ordeal. That’s why what these ladies are doing is so extraordinary - not only are they bucking time-old gender stereotypes, they are speaking out on some of the most important issues in the world today.
From Amira Hass to Manal Al Sharif, take a look at Al Bawaba’s gallery of the most extraordinary ladies in the Middle East today who are sticking their head above the parapet and firmly foisting their female faces on to a male-map.