In 2011, Tawakkol Karman became the first Yemeni, the first Arab woman, the second Muslim and, at 32 years-old, the youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize. The trailblazer became the face and voice of the Yemeni uprising. “The Iron Woman” began weekly protests in Yemen back in 2007 that carried through to 2011. A journalist, in 2005, she founded Women Journalists Without Chains. “We are the new generation struggling for our freedom. We know that this is a new world and the future is ours. And as women, they built walls around us because they are afraid of us,” she said on the Nobel Women’s Initiative site.
Sheikha Moza bint Nasser is considered one of the region’s most powerful women, spearheading education initiatives across the globe. In November 2012, she announced her partnership with Unesco and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in an effort to educate 60 million girls across the globe. Sheikha Moza is the Emir of Qatar’s second of three wives and has taken on a far more high-profile role in Qatari affairs than most do. A style icon across the globe, she has many fashion fans as well, including this Tumblr, devoted solely to documenting her style.
Less than a year ago, Vera Baboun was a little-known literature professor at Bethlehem University, with a degree in African-American literature. But she surprised everyone when she beat other high-profile male candidates to become the first female mayor of Bethlehem on Oct. 20, 2012. She’s a Christian Arab, whose Independence and Development bloc, is composed of both Christian and Muslim Fatah members.
Queen Noor of Jordan was born to a prominent Syrian family as Lisa N. Halaby in Washington, DC. She became one of the first women to graduate from Princeton in 1972, which she once described as "an excellent preparation for living in the Arab world." She married King Hussein of Jordan in 1978, when she took the name Noor al-Hussein. During her reign as queen, she started many socially-aware initiatives, including education for women and girls, but also made a point not to alienate religious women who did not want to enter the workforce. She is currently the Commissioner of the International Commission on Missing Persons. Queen Noor also started the world-renowned Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts, which attracts international and regional acts every year.
A powerful Saudi business woman, Lubna Suliman Olayan is on virtually every “powerful women” list, including Forbes and Arabian Business. Her company, which was founded by her father in 1947, is one of the largest investors in the region’s stock markets. It is a massive conglomerate that deals in manufacturing, services, distribution and more. A crowning moment for Olayan was in 2004, when she became the first woman to speak in front of a mixed audience at the Jeddah Economic Forum. She used the platform to speak on behalf of women. “Any Saudi citizen, irrespective of gender who is serious about finding employment, can find a job in the field for which he or she is best qualified,” she said.
A human rights lawyer in Iran, Nasrin Sotoudeh spent a large part of her early career defending abused mothers and children, activists and journalists. After the protests of June 2009 in Iran, she represented many of the high-profile opposition leaders who were arrested. But in 2010, she was arrested, imprisoned and banned from practicing law. In 2011, she went on hunger strike after her daughter was issued a travel ban. The government eventually succumbed. Some of her most famous clients include Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi and journalist Isa Saharkhiz.
The first Israeli woman to win a Nobel Prize, Ada Yonath received the honor in 2009 for her work on creating images of the ribosome. Her work, along with her colleagues, has led to a better understanding of the structure of the ribosome, which in turns aids in creating new antibiotics, among other things. Yonath said that while being a woman did not help her advance in the field, she didn’t think it hurt either.
Founder of the Local Women Reporters Network, Halime Guner mobilizes and trains female journalists from all over Turkey to report on women’s issues, which in turn, raises awareness. Their stories are gaining traction as national and international outlets pick up the articles. With a background in social work, she started the first women's shelter in Ankara. Her NGO, The Flying Broom is the umbrella organization that the reporters network falls under as well as many other local initiatives.
Founder of the Nazra Institute for Feminist Studies, Mozn Hassan has been mobilizing female candidates to take part in the new Egyptian government. She started her life of activism early on, and spent day and night in Tahrir Square before the Egyptian revolution in 2011. Her work there caught the attention of Vital Voices, one of the world’s leading organizations for women’s empowerment, and has been working on pilot programs with them for the advocacy of women’s rights across the region.
A Moroccan academic, feminist and writer, Fatema Mernissi (R) is best known for her works about the role of women in Islam. Beyond the Veil, her first book about male-female dynamics in Muslim society has been printed worldwide and is on syllabi in from Europe to Morocco. She has a bombastic style, often causing controversy, when she challenges deep-rooted understandings of male-dominated culture and society.
As people across the globe mark International Women’s Day, Al-Monitor takes a look at just a few of the inspiring women who are shaping the Middle East, from the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner to Bethlehem’s first female mayor.