Toppling traditions: Arab superwomen rock International Women’s Day

Published March 8th, 2015 - 10:59 GMT

Every March 8th brings an annual opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements while calling for greater equality. Happy International Women’s Day! But no sitting on your laurels, ladies.

This year’s theme is “Make It Happen,” and we bring you twelve women who are doing just that across sciences, education, sport, culture and human rights. We left the celebrities (and porn stars, and beautiful brainiacs married to Hollywood A-listers) off this power-panel. There’s ample coverage of them in the Al Bawaba archives if you haven’t had your fill!

Instead, our list pays tribute to some quiet warriors who toil behind the scenes (behind the microscopes, behind the cameras, and at their keyboards) not only to progress their own careers and ideologies, but to forge new pathways for next-generation protégés to travel, and ultimately overtake them in the years ahead.

Thousands of events worldwide will mark the economic, political and social achievements of women today. Campaigns to raise awareness and encourage support for good causes are positive actions. But consider that the first International Women's Day was held in 1911. The UN has been declaring a gender equality theme for many years. There’s work to be done.

In a region often associated with the oppression of women, where less than 35% of the workforce is female, the day is particularly important for the Middle East.

Learn about a dozen regional trailblazers. Be inspired to make way for (and cultivate) more!

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Major Mariam Al Mansouri Daesh UAE female fighter pilot

Last year, Maj. Mariam Al Mansouri became the face of the UAE Air Force when the nation launched strikes against Daesh. The 35-year-old F-16 pilot (the UAE’s first female fighter pilot) led missions in Syria, winning international praise for boosting gender equality in the Middle East.

Lebanese poetry Scheherazade Joumana Haddad

Joumana Haddad has been a bellwether for women’s rights across the Middle East, but she calls for wider solidarity between everyone. The Lebanese poet and journalist has attracted death threats for her unwavering views on equality. Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa said Haddad’s 2010 book, I Killed Scheherazade, “destroys our prejudices.”

StayLinked Palestinian high-tech startups Abeer Abu Ghaith

In 2013, Abeer Abu Ghaith founded StayLinked, an interface that allows Palestinian freelancers to outsource their services globally. She’s got street cred as Palestine’s first female high-tech entrepreneur, and is a vocal promoter of women in the workplace, “even if society wants to confine us in the kitchen.”

Women for Women International Zainab Salbi microloans

Iraqi-American author Zainab Salbi is dedicated to serving female war survivors. She founded Women for Women International in 1993, serving as CEO until 2011, helping over 370,000 women in 8 conflict areas rebuild their lives, distributing more than $103 million in aid and microloans, positively affecting more than 1.7 million people.

Hayat Sindi UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador

Mecca-born scientist Hayat Sindi is hailed as one of the Arab world’s most innovative women in science with a stand-out career in diagnostics and biotech. The first female - and first Saudi - to become a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for sciences, Sindi is now focused on her i2 Institute, which mentors next-gen inventors.

Haifaa al Mansour Wadjda Academy Awards

Director Haifaa al Mansour’s debut movie Wadjda, also written by her, featured at the 2012 Venice Film Festival. It was the first full-length film to be shot entirely in Saudi and by a female director. It was also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, another first for a Saudi film.

Rana Dajani Hashemite University Zarqa We Love Reading

Dr. Rana Dajani, assistant professor at the Hashemite University in Zarqa, founded an ambitious literacy program that aims to create a library in every Jordanian neighborhood. Her “We Love Reading” model has spread to Lebanon, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia. An estimated 10,000 children have benefited in Jordan alone.

Raha Moharrak Mount Everest Arabs with Altitude

Raha Moharrak is the first Saudi woman to make it to the top of the world’s highest peak, and at age 25 also the youngest Arab. Two years later, she’s on a speaking circuit to inspire others to take on big challenges. Her four-member Everest team (Arabs with Altitude) raised nearly $1 million to help educate poor Nepalese.

Somayya Jabarti Saudi Gazette

In 2014, Somayya Jabarti became the first woman to control a newspaper in Saudi Arabia. Her appointment as Saudi Gazette editor-in-chief was a milestone in a country where women’s rights are notoriously limited. She said, “There’s a crack that has been made in the glass ceiling. And I’m hoping it will be made into a door.”

Maha Laziri Teach4Morocco  Atlas Mountains

Maha Laziri founded NGO Teach4Morocco in 2011, with a mission to improve Morocco’s education. Her tiny team has built schools in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, the village of Ait Hamza, and the Tassaout Valley. They aim high, working to provide all Moroccans with access to quality education.

Mona Eltahawy Tahrir Square Headscarves and Hymens

After her arrest during a 2011 protest in Tahrir Square, journalist Mona Eltahawy was violently attacked inside Egypt’s Interior Ministry. Her slashed forearms featured in world news coverage of the riots. She writes critically about patriarchy in all forms and her first book - "Headscarves and Hymens" - will be published in April.

Loujain Al Hathloul Maysaa Al Amoudi women banned driving Saudi Arabia

Loujain Al Hathloul shot into headlines for her trip from the UAE into KSA, defying the Saudi Arabian ban on women driving. She tweeted drive updates to her fanbase, elevating the topic within the GCC and around the world. Arrested in December for the drive, along with Maysaa Al Amoudi, they were freed in February.

Major Mariam Al Mansouri Daesh UAE female fighter pilot
Lebanese poetry Scheherazade Joumana Haddad
StayLinked Palestinian high-tech startups Abeer Abu Ghaith
Women for Women International Zainab Salbi microloans
Hayat Sindi UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador
Haifaa al Mansour Wadjda Academy Awards
Rana Dajani Hashemite University Zarqa We Love Reading
Raha Moharrak Mount Everest Arabs with Altitude
Somayya Jabarti Saudi Gazette
Maha Laziri Teach4Morocco  Atlas Mountains
Mona Eltahawy Tahrir Square Headscarves and Hymens
Loujain Al Hathloul Maysaa Al Amoudi women banned driving Saudi Arabia
Major Mariam Al Mansouri Daesh UAE female fighter pilot
Last year, Maj. Mariam Al Mansouri became the face of the UAE Air Force when the nation launched strikes against Daesh. The 35-year-old F-16 pilot (the UAE’s first female fighter pilot) led missions in Syria, winning international praise for boosting gender equality in the Middle East.
Lebanese poetry Scheherazade Joumana Haddad
Joumana Haddad has been a bellwether for women’s rights across the Middle East, but she calls for wider solidarity between everyone. The Lebanese poet and journalist has attracted death threats for her unwavering views on equality. Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa said Haddad’s 2010 book, I Killed Scheherazade, “destroys our prejudices.”
StayLinked Palestinian high-tech startups Abeer Abu Ghaith
In 2013, Abeer Abu Ghaith founded StayLinked, an interface that allows Palestinian freelancers to outsource their services globally. She’s got street cred as Palestine’s first female high-tech entrepreneur, and is a vocal promoter of women in the workplace, “even if society wants to confine us in the kitchen.”
Women for Women International Zainab Salbi microloans
Iraqi-American author Zainab Salbi is dedicated to serving female war survivors. She founded Women for Women International in 1993, serving as CEO until 2011, helping over 370,000 women in 8 conflict areas rebuild their lives, distributing more than $103 million in aid and microloans, positively affecting more than 1.7 million people.
Hayat Sindi UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador
Mecca-born scientist Hayat Sindi is hailed as one of the Arab world’s most innovative women in science with a stand-out career in diagnostics and biotech. The first female - and first Saudi - to become a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for sciences, Sindi is now focused on her i2 Institute, which mentors next-gen inventors.
Haifaa al Mansour Wadjda Academy Awards
Director Haifaa al Mansour’s debut movie Wadjda, also written by her, featured at the 2012 Venice Film Festival. It was the first full-length film to be shot entirely in Saudi and by a female director. It was also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, another first for a Saudi film.
Rana Dajani Hashemite University Zarqa We Love Reading
Dr. Rana Dajani, assistant professor at the Hashemite University in Zarqa, founded an ambitious literacy program that aims to create a library in every Jordanian neighborhood. Her “We Love Reading” model has spread to Lebanon, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia. An estimated 10,000 children have benefited in Jordan alone.
Raha Moharrak Mount Everest Arabs with Altitude
Raha Moharrak is the first Saudi woman to make it to the top of the world’s highest peak, and at age 25 also the youngest Arab. Two years later, she’s on a speaking circuit to inspire others to take on big challenges. Her four-member Everest team (Arabs with Altitude) raised nearly $1 million to help educate poor Nepalese.
Somayya Jabarti Saudi Gazette
In 2014, Somayya Jabarti became the first woman to control a newspaper in Saudi Arabia. Her appointment as Saudi Gazette editor-in-chief was a milestone in a country where women’s rights are notoriously limited. She said, “There’s a crack that has been made in the glass ceiling. And I’m hoping it will be made into a door.”
Maha Laziri Teach4Morocco  Atlas Mountains
Maha Laziri founded NGO Teach4Morocco in 2011, with a mission to improve Morocco’s education. Her tiny team has built schools in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, the village of Ait Hamza, and the Tassaout Valley. They aim high, working to provide all Moroccans with access to quality education.
Mona Eltahawy Tahrir Square Headscarves and Hymens
After her arrest during a 2011 protest in Tahrir Square, journalist Mona Eltahawy was violently attacked inside Egypt’s Interior Ministry. Her slashed forearms featured in world news coverage of the riots. She writes critically about patriarchy in all forms and her first book - "Headscarves and Hymens" - will be published in April.
Loujain Al Hathloul Maysaa Al Amoudi women banned driving Saudi Arabia
Loujain Al Hathloul shot into headlines for her trip from the UAE into KSA, defying the Saudi Arabian ban on women driving. She tweeted drive updates to her fanbase, elevating the topic within the GCC and around the world. Arrested in December for the drive, along with Maysaa Al Amoudi, they were freed in February.

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