by Boushra Yahya Almutawakel
The BBC released its “100 Women 2018” list which highlights the achievements of inspirational women who are “leaders, trailblazers and everyday heroes,” from all over the world.
This year nine Arab women from Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen and Egypt made the cut and here’s why:
Hayat Sindi, Saudi Arabian scientist
A medical scientist and the first Saudi Muslim woman in the Gulf region to achieve a PhD in biotechnology, Hayat Sindi is also one of the first female members of the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia.
At present the female scientist is the co-founder of Diagnostics For All, which is an NGO that aims to provide medical care in secluded disadvantaged areas, as she proclaims that "a true scientist should focus on affordable simple solutions to reach everyone in the world."
Hayat Sindi has been appointed a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for her efforts to promote education for girls in the Arab region as she calls on countries across the Middle East to increase their spend on science education for all.
Raneen Bukhari, Saudi Arabian art curator
Saudi social media manager and curator, Raneen Bukhari, has had a penchant for the arts from a young age. Watching and getting involved in her parents’ Desert Designs Art Gallery in Al Khobar has turned her into an ardent art curator.
"My involvement in the art world is a labor of love," the 31-year-old told Khaleejesque, as she became one of six Saudi Arabian women to participate in the Contemporary Collective, which featured 27 artworks from British Council Collection in Saudi Arabia.
Nujeen Mustafa, Syrian refugee rights activist
Nujeen Mustafa is an influential activist for refugee youths who fled the Syrian war, and at 16 she was one of them as she crossed borders, from Syria to Germany, in her steel wheelchair. Now 19, she campaigns on behalf of the refugees with disabilities like herself. Mustafa was born with Cerebral Palsy and wrote a book co-authored by journalist Christina Lamb, about her story, entitled “The Girl From Aleppo”.
Hoping to become an astronaut one day, Nujeen told The Guardian, "I still want to be an astronaut – for me it's the biggest unsolved mystery; whether we are alone in this world. I want to study physics at university in Germany. In the meantime, I'm getting the message out that refugees are people, not numbers.”
Yanar Mohammed, Iraqi feminist
A known Iraqi feminist, Yanar Mohammed is currently the President of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) who achieved the Gruber Prize for Women’s Rights in 2008, going on to receive Norway’s human rights Rafto Prize in 2016.
At 58 years old, Yanar Mohammed provides help and support to victims of violence and abuse in Iraq, and it is reported by the BBC that through her network, she has helped over 800 women and counting.
Dima Nashawi, Syrian artist and children rights activist
A visual storyteller, clown and artist who collects and conveys Syrian tales, Dima Nashawi expresses her longing for her war-torn home country and her relationship with it through her illustrations.
She is also a social activist who spends time entertaining disenfranchised children through being a clown, which she says also acts as a form of therapy for them. Journalist Zahra Hankir wrote about Dima Nashawi, "despite the fluidity and instability of her existence in the past half-decade or so, Dima’s commitment to art and to her homeland are inseparable and have never wavered.”
Raghda Ezzeldin, Egyptian athlete
Raghda Ezzeldin is renowned for being a record breaking free-diver. A financial analyst by day, she believes that free diving is a form of freedom and in 2016, founded Egypt Free Divers with a view to help connect divers to suppliers, centers, and suppliers.
"For me, something felt off when scuba diving - I found the gear constraining. You have more freedom as a freediver," she told Cairo Scene. The 26-year-old sportswoman gained international media recognition when she held her breath under water for more than 5 minutes.
Boushra Yahya Almutawakel, Yemeni photographer
Artist and photographer, Boushra Yahya Almutawakel uses her work to "provoke discussions about social norms and question the ways people and cultures judge one another," as explained by The Economist. She does this by taking portraits of mostly Middle Eastern women with an objective to challenge stereotypes surrounding women who wear the hijab in the West. In 2001, she showed the various "facets of the veil" through her artwork in a project called Hijab Series.
"As an Arab Muslim woman living in Yemen who has first-hand experience with the hijab, I have mixed feelings regarding this topic. There are certain aspects of the hijab I like and others I don't particularly care for. I don't believe it is black or white. I found the veil to be an intriguing, complex, multilayered topic," Almutawakel said.
Esra'a Al Shafei – Bahraini civil rights activist
Esra’a is a 32-year-old Bahraini blogger, civil rights activist and founder of a number of digital platform with an objective to make the “under-represented” heard in the MENA region. One of her platforms, Majal, addresses important social issues including "rights of the invisible lower income migrant workers" and "the stigmatized Middle East LGBTQ community.”
The Bahraini woman was described as "an outspoken defender of free speech" by CNN reporter Georges Webster in 2010.
Shrouk El-Attar – Egyptian LGBTQ rights activist
Shrouk El Attar is an activist for LGBTQ rights in Egypt and raises awareness through belly dancing. This year, El Attar was proclaimed the "Young Woman of the Year" for her activism by the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.
Due to her LGBT status, Shrouk was granted a residency in the UK where she is currently studying for her master’s degree in Wales. The electrical engineering student told Reuters, "I really 110 percent believe I wouldn't be alive if I was living (in Egypt) the same way I'm living here now.”