- We’ve put together a list of inspirational women in the Arab world who are taking the world by storm
- We hear of international stars like Beyonce and Ellen DeGeneres in the news but the Middle East is also home to influential and powerful women who may go unnoticed
- Stars such as Huda Kattan, Nancy Ajram, and Nadine Labaki call the region home
- This list features self-made entrepreneurs, history makers, and stereotype crushers
There are influential women all around us. The truth is, we often overlook those closest to us, favouring the glitz and glamour of the mainstream celebrity. But for every Beyonce, there is a Nancy Ajram, and for every Ellen Degeneres, there is a Nadine Labaki. There are women who quietly work tirelessly behind the spotlight; inspiring change and empowering those around them. Here are the entrepreneurs, the history makers, and the catalysts for change in the Arab world.
Huda Kattan is an Iraqi-American beauty blogger, make-up artist and entrepreneur. She is one of the most influential women in the Middle East, with 35.4 million Instagram followers, and was featured in Time’s 25 Most Influential People on the Internet in 2017. Kattan launched Huda Beauty, her cosmetics line which sells more than 140 products, in 2013. It is now valued at over $1 billion, while Kattan’s estimated net worth is over $550 million – leading to Forbes recognising her as one of the Richest Self Made Women in the world.
Kattan hopes to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs, and has set up HB Angel Investment Group – an early stage investment fund to enable new entrepreneurs to get their own businesses up and running.
Mardinian has been a popular public figure in the UAE following her move from London in 2004. A self-made, Dubai-based businesswoman, Mardinian is the founder and CEO of Joelle Group, a highly successful multi-conglomerate with businesses in clinical and cosmetic beauty. Having featured on the Esquire 100 list in 2018, the Lebanese entrepreneur is responsible for brands such as Maison de Joelle, Clinica Joelle and Joelle Paris. Mardinian had previously been a TV presenter on MBC for 13 years before founding Maison de Joelle – which now has 11 branches across the GCC.
She is also considered one of the Middle East’s top social influencers, with 9.8 million followers on Instagram.
Lebanese director Nadine Labaki began pushing the boundaries and making headlines in 2003, when she directed the controversial “Akhasmak ah” music video for Nancy Ajram. From there, the filmmaker has continued to break the glass ceiling, as she is set to be the first Arab national to sit amongst the board of Un Certain Regard at the 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival – arguably the biggest event on the entertainment industry’s calendar. Not only will she be the first person to represent the Middle East on the panel, but she will be the president of the committee in the 2019 installment taking place next month.
Another huge accomplishment to add to her ever-growing list of accolades, with her powerful 2018 film, Capernaum, was nominated for both the Golden Globe and Oscars – as well as winning Labaki the Jury Prize at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, receiving a 15-minute standing ovation following its screening. To top it off, the film did not feature any notable professional actors, with the lead role played by a real-life Syrian refugee.
After her parents objected to her pursuing a career as a television presenter, the Syrian launched her YouTube channel at just 18. She has since amassed over 6.3 million subscribers on her Arabic-language channel HaylaTV, where she produces a wide variety of content – ranging from lifestyle, to cooking, and make-up tutorials. Ghazal is a highly influential social media star, clocking nearly 2 million followers on Instagram. The YouTube sensation was also appointed as a UN change ambassador as part of a collaboration aiming to tackle YouTube’s gender inequality. She is also a successful entrepreneur, and owns Hayla Couture – a fashion boutique in Jumeirah – and plans to build an empire whilst increasing her offline notability.
Not only is Raha Moharrak the youngest Arab to conquer Mount Everest, she is also the first Saudi woman to accomplish the feat. She has also scaled seven other peaks, including Mount Kilimanjaro, continuing to break the stereotypes associated with Saudi women. Moharrak uses the opportunity to subvert the stereotypes as a driving force behind her decision to begin climbing; “I refuse for my nationality, my gender, my race, my religion to stop me from achieving something that I believe I can do,” she told Esquire Middle East, who crowned her Woman of the Year in the 2018 edition of the Esquire Awards.
Having signed as an artist to EMI aged just 15, it is no surprise that singer Nancy Ajram has been a household name for the past two decades. The Lebanese icon is one of the best-selling Middle Eastern female artist of the last decade, and her albums have continued to top sales charts in the Middle East in recent years. The most recent video she released in 2018 has over 38 million views, which proves to her critics that she is a timeless star who is here to stay. Ajram has been working with UNICEF since 2009, when she became the first female regional ambassador for the Middle East and North Africa.
The Yemeni star is a crossover between a rapper and an activist, discussing struggles faced by Middle Eastern – particularly Yemeni – women, including sexual harassment, child marriage, gender inequalities, among other injustices. Amani’s powerful raps have abolished the negative connotations associated with hip-hop in the Arab world, with the young artist proving that rap can be used to spread messages of positivity and resilience, rather than violence and aggression. She raps in English to avoid her audience focusing on her Yemeni dialect, which according to her, leads to meaningless discrimination issues. Instead, it allows her to push her content to a younger audience.
Amani has overcome backlash from conservative Yemeni society in order to pursue her dream and instigate change. The nation has since been devastated by a civil war, leading the rapper to seek asylum in Saudi Arabia, and she has been unable to release any new music. Her previous work continues to reach the youth, inspiring the next generation to advocate for change in the region.
Amani Al Hosani
In 2012, Amani Al Hosani became the first female Emirati nuclear scientist. She began her career in the oil industry, but switched to the nuclear energy industry; realising that it would be important for the future of the UAE. Al Hosani is now employed in a managerial role at Nawah Energy Company, operators of the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant in Abu Dhabi, which is set to be the first commercial nuclear power station in the Arabian Peninsula when it begins running next year. Al Hosani will undoubtedly be an important asset to her nation as it strives to utilise nuclear power – given her expertise in designing nuclear reactors, as well as analytic sciences for safety.
Lama A. Younis
Lama Younis is both an activist and an entrepreneur. The Saudi Arabian founded the Hissah Enrichment Centre, named after her mother, in Dubai. Since it opened in 2013, the Hissah Enrichment Centre has focused on the prevention of child abuse and the empowerment of victims of abuse in the region. Younis founded The Lama Campaign in 2015, dedicated to ensuring the protection and well-being of Muslim children and youth through education and awareness.
Appearing on Forbes’ Top 50 Women in Tech list of 2018, Dubai-based Noor Sweid is one of the most distinguished venture capitalists in the region. With her firm Global Ventures, Sweid the only woman in the Middle East running a venture capital fund. Sweid is also a history maker, becoming the first woman to orchestrate an IPO in the region when Depa, the luxury interior contracting company, was listed on NASDAQ Dubai and the London Stock Exchange in 2008. If all of that wasn’t enough, the entrepreneur also founded and sold ZenYoga, the largest chain of pilates and yoga studios in the Middle East.