The Arab world’s women continue to punch above their weight in the spheres of business, society, the arts and more. The notion that Arab women trail in the wake of their men has long since been dismissed and, today, our women stand shoulder to shoulder with their peers on the global stage working alongside men and, in many cases, leading them too.
Empowered and empowering, they’re acquitting themselves admirably and breaking barriers and taboos that just one generation ago would have seemed impenetrable. To mark International Women’s Day, we pick our short list of just nine Middle Eastern women whose actions, ethics, courage, and energy continually set them as role models for other women, and as ambassadors for women in their respective fields.
We’re not talking power, we’re not talking wealth, here we’re talking passion and inspiration. Some names you’ll know well, other perhaps not quite so well. But, we feel 2020 is the year you need to get acquainted with them all a little bit closer!
Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan
“A mum and a wife with a really cool day job”
As queen consort of Jordan since 1999, Queen Rania – Kuwait-born of Palestinian heritage – has used her position to further advocacy work related to education, health, community empowerment, youth, cross-cultural dialogue. An avid user of social media, her’s is an inspiring life to follow. One of riches, yes, but also of giving.
Founder of Huda Beauty
Having started out in the world of finance before going on to become social media’s queen of beauty, this Iraq-American but Dubai-based makeup artist and beauty blogger also highlights the work of other talented makeup artists. She’s shown the way to successfully turning online visibility in to the foundations of a strong, and profitable business empire.
In 2017, Sarah Al-Suhaimi became the first Saudi woman to be appointed the CEO of the Saudi Arabian stock exchange. She is also the CEO of NCB Capital. Talk about smashing through glass ceilings! In line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and its post-oil economy plans, a key platform of which is to develop women’s role in the economy, Sarah is one of a slowly growing cohort of Saudi women to be making waves.
Brand Director, MAGRABi
Raised in Jeddah by her Saudi-Egyptian father and Lebanese mother, the now Beirut-based Cherine Magrabi puts her role as Brand Director at the family’s optical business (the largest in the region) to very good use. A perpetual empowerer of others, in 2018 she was the force behind MAGRABi’s ‘Empower Your Vision’ campaign which, featuring the region’s most popular social media influencers, delivered a message from MAGRABi to all women out there. It was not one of ‘liberation’ or of ‘uprising’, but rather a human and socially driven message of celebration and of encouragement, to face the unknown, to challenge the ‘new frontier’. From Cherine pours a constant flow of inspiration to and empowerment of others… particularly young Arab women.
AlAnoud Al Sharekh
Kuwaiti AlAnoud Al Sharekh is a researcher and academic of global standing, one with a particular interest in women’s rights. Highly valued for her opinions across a host of societal issues, in 2016 she founded Ibtkar, a political and strategic consultancy focusing on training the youth – in particular young women – on the opportunities of leadership and dialogue in Kuwait and abroad. Also, a pivotal voice in Kuwait’s Abolish 153 campaign.
HRH Princess Lamia Bint Majid AlSaud
Some may say that being a philanthropist is easy when you are born within a family of apparently limitless wealth. So, why doesn’t everyone born with Princess Lamia’s riches share her largesse? Lamia throws herself totally into her role as trustee of Saudi Arabia’s Alwaleed Philanthropies, and is a champion of the UN-supported Generation Unlimited, and global champion for gender data at @UN_Women
Ever since bursting on the international figure skating scene in 2012 – her appearance prompted a rule change allowing headscarves to be worn in the sport for the first time – the 25-year-old was the first to compete in a hijab, and the first Gulf sportswoman to compete at this discipline internationally. A role model for her generation, she has now set her sights on competing at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.
Actress and director
2019 Oscar nominee, Lebanon’s Nadine Labaki has acquired the knack of creating movies that hit often uncomfortably awkward social spots. The nominated Capharnaüm highlighted the plight of Syrian refugees as well as under-privileged nationals in her home country. With works that connect the Arab world and the Western world in ways that surprise the viewer, her interpretation of feminism reflects the complex reality of life of the Middle East’s ordinary woman.
Lawyer and human rights activist
Beirut-born, Oxford and New York-educated and now a citizen of the world, Amal is a practicing lawyer, and one-half of the George and Amal Clooney Foundation for Justice – which advocates for justice through accountability for human rights abuses around the world. She has also launched the Amal Clooney Scholarship – which sends a female student from Lebanon each year to the United World College in Dilijan. On top of this, she is often seen on red carpets around the world. She remains a celebrity, but with the most human of touches.