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Looking back at the 15 most inspiring women from the MENASA region in 2014

December 31, 2014 8:07 am

By Rowaida Abdelaziz

It has definitely been a year of ups and downs for the Middle East and South Asia.

Home to one-fifth of the global population, nations in the region have faced extraordinary political, social and economic challenges in 2014.

These women, however, chose to rise above those challenges and have gone on to accomplish some of the greatest feats in regional and global history. Ranging from social activism and law to journalism and mathematics, these inspiring women continue to dispel stereotypes and have achieved their merits with passion, grace and utter bad-assery.

We have picked 15 amazing women whose work so far and promise for the future are sure to spark some innovative ideas for 2015 and inspire other women to do the same.

1. Hind Hobeika


Lebanese entrepreneur Hind Hobeika is the founder of Instabeat, the first and only display monitor that tracks performance statistics for swimmers without distraction. As a former professional swimmer herself, Hobeika hopes to implement the device to all athletes beyond swimmers in 2015 and is estimated to reach $50 billion by 2018.

2. Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy

Oscar and Academy award winning filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, has tackled various controversial issues in her Pakistani homeland ranging from girls education, to acid violence, to sexuality  through her documentaries.  She participated in the 2014 Women in the World summit in New York where she announced the launch of a new TV show dedicated to discussing the most pressing social issues in Pakistan. Her latest film, Three Braves, is the first Urdu animated project about local heroes for children is set to release in the summer of 2015.

3. Dalia Mogahed


Egyptian-born Dalia Mogahed is the Chairman and CEO of Mogahed Consulting, a firm that provides “evidence based advice” and analysis on the Middle East and Muslim world. She was the first veiled Muslim women appointed to a position in the White House and served as an advisor to US President Barack Obama in 2009 on the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. She was also recognized as one of the most influential Arab women by Arabian Business magazine in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

4. Maryam Mirzakhani


Awarded by a committee from the International Mathematical Union, Stanford professor Maryam Mirzakhani became the first woman and the first Iranian honored with the Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics in August.

5. Bayan al-Zahran

First Saudi woman lawyer

As the first licensed woman lawyer in Saudi Arabia, Bayan al-Zahran opened the first female law firm this year.  She told Arab News that her firm consisting of 4 other female lawyers, would fight for the rights of women in the country with proper representation as a woman since most men were unable to relate and assist women in court.

6. Malala Yousafazi


In October, 17-year-old Malala Yousafazi  accepted the Nobel peace prize as the youngest prize laureate ever for her efforts to secure education for all children, especially girls. In October 2012, Yousafzai survived a terrifying attack in which Taliban extremists tried to kill her for campaigning for girls’ education. Since then, she has become a fierce advocate for female education and says she may even aspire to become prime minister of Pakistan one day.

“I’m here to stand up for their rights, to raise their voice,” she said. “It is not time to pity them. It is time to take action, so it becomes the last time … that we see a child deprived of education.”

7. Amal Clooney

Amal Alammudin

While most people recognize as the wife of actor George Clooney, British-Lebanese Amal Alamuddin, now Mrs. Clooney is actually a well respected attorney, activist and author whose accomplishments in 2014 alone include joining UNICEF to protect children in conflict zones from sexual violence and being asked to serve on the UN commission of inquiry into possible human rights violations in Gaza.

Her impressive prior case load also includes representing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the former prime minister of Ukraine, and serving as a legal adviser at the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal.

8. Linda Sarsour

Linda Sarsour

As the executive director of the Arab American Association of NY and the National Advocacy Director for the National Network for Arab American Communities, Linda has continuously been the face of social activism, working to empower Arabs and people of color for years.

In light of recent events in Ferguson, Sarsour has launched the Take On Hate campaign and sparked a national conversation of #WhereIsTheSolidarity to address black and Arab relations.

9. Mariam Al-Mansouri

Mariam Al Mansouri

Major Mariam Al-Mansouri is the first female fighter pilot in the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces. If that wasn’t badass enough, Al-Mansouri also received major attention when she led the airstrikes with her coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq.

10. Somayya Jabarti

Somayya Jabarti, editor, Saudi Gazette

Somayya Jabarti has been appointed the first female editor-in-chief contrary to the limitations on women in Saudi Arabia. Jobarati, the new editor-in-chief of the Saudi Gazette told CNN that “There will be challenges, but there is ground to be broken. This is just the starting point.”

11. Zahra Lari

Zahra Lari

Not only is Emirati Zahra Lari the first figure skater from the Gulf to compete in an international competition, but she is the first to do so while wearing the hijab, the traditional Islamic headscarf. Lari, also known as the Ice Princess, plans to compete for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

12. Sheikha Lubna Al-Qasimi

2008 Global Leadership Awards

For the fourth year in a row, Sheikha Lubna Al-Qasimi has been named the number one most powerful Arab woman in government by Forbes and the 55th most powerful woman in the world.

Currently serving as the Minister of Foreign Trade, Al-Qasimi previously served as the Minister of Economic and Planning as the first woman to hold a ministerial position in the United Arab Emirates.

In 2014, she was appointed president of the Prince Zayed University in the UAE.

13. Ayah Bdeir

Ayah Bdeir

Lebanese engineer and artist Aya Bdeir is the founder and CEO of LittleBits, an award-winning library of electronic modules that snap together to create various buildable items and “allow anyone to learn, build and invent with electronics. “

Her New York-based company has already sold thousands of unites in over 80 countries worldwide. She also made it to MIT’s 2014 list of 35 under 35.

14. Farah Mohamed

Farah Mohamed

Farah Mohamed is the founder and CEO of G(irls) 20 Summit, a Canadian-based organization that is dedicated to women from G20 countries, providing them with the necessary entrepreneurship and educational skills to contribute to and advance the development of their home countries. Her accomplishments include winning the Women of Influence award both in 2012 and 2014, the Women Who Inspire Award by the Canadian Council of Muslim Women in 2014 and gaining a coveted spot on New York’s Forty over 40 list.

15. Bahia Shehab

Bahia Shebab

As an associate professor at the American University of Cairo, art historian and designer, Bahia Shehab has taken the art of Arabic script and applies it to modern day issues, most recently to the streets of Egypt.  Bahia is also known for her series of Arabic scripted graffiti of the word ‘no’ in Arabic to protest the military rule and other issues during the 2011 revolution in Egypt.  Her artwork can be found in galleries across the world with her more popular piece, Blue Bra Graffiti located in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.




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