From adversity emerges strength and courage. 2023, particularly in the Arab world, was marked by a series of exceptional situations and crises. Many Arab women demonstrated remarkable courage, resilience and resistance in the face of challenge.
Raseef22 has chosen 10 women, each of which embodies the reality of their country, gender, and industry. We take a look at the sacrifices they have made and their influence within their communities.
1. Ruba Al-Ajrami, TRT correspondent in Gaza
The Palestinian journalist faced extreme difficulty as her home was bombed while she was on air reporting the news live. She had no knowledge of her husband and children’s fate.
One woman was sentenced to death as punishment for her human rights activism, one wrote from the heart of the flames in Gaza, while another overcame personal pain to help others.. Here are 10 Arab women who inspired us in 2023
Al-Ajrami fought back tears as she stood before the camera, delivering the news of the Israeli bombing of the Hamad Towers residential area, which was built with Qatari funding, explaining that she and her family were residents. She explained that her husband and children were home, and she did not know if they were harmed. It was later revealed that her family was safe.
She is one of dozens of journalists and correspondents tirelessly upholding her duties despite the challenging conditions in Gaza. These journalists are repeatedly exposed to distressing news about their families and acquaintances during their coverage of the war. Al Jazeera’s Youmna ElSayed was threatened by the Israeli military to evacuate her home. This is believed to be retaliation for her work.
2- Hala Alkarib, Sudanese Researcher and human rights activist
While the world is preoccupied by the war on Gaza, warring forces in Sudan, especially the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), are engage in horrific crimes. Hala AlKarib raises her voice to draw public attention to what is happening in Sudan. In particular, she sheds light on the violations and physical and sexual assault against women by the RSF.
Using the hashtag #KeepEyesOnSudan, and writing in both Arabic and English, AlKarib exposes the ongoing conflict in Sudan, while emphasizing the harm inflicted on women and children. She calls for unity and alliance for a future free from war and poverty.
3- Naima Qorane, Somali Poet and Activist
The young Somali poet is a prominent face on her local political scene, and has been vocal about her opposition to the government since 2018. In recent months, Qorane has become a target of online attacks due to her political and human rights activism.
She revealed that her Facebook account, on which she has tens of thousands of followers, was hacked, and she was no longer able to access it. Then the misleading phrase ‘In our hearts’ was posted, falsely indicating that she had died.
After recovering her account, Qorane resumed posting, with the determination and fearlessness she is known for.
I’m 2018, she was sentenced to three years in prison by a court in Somaliland for advocating the unity of Somali territories. However, she was released after her health deteriorated.
4- Huda Kattan, Iraqi-American businesswoman
Since the beginning of the war on Gaza, beauty expert and businesswoman Huda Kattan, founder of the Huda Beauty empire with around 4 million Instagram followers, has used her platform to voice support for the Palestinian people, calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire and for civilians to be able to return to their homes.
While the world is preoccupied by the war on Gaza, Hala AlKarib draws public attention to what is happening in Sudan. In particular, she sheds light on the physical and sexual assault against women by the RSF.
Kattan was on the receiving end of her fair share of harassment and calls for the boycott of her products by supporters of Israel. She admitted that her business initially suffered losses, before a slight increase in sales, and finally stabilizing. This did not stop her support, explaining “I'm willing to risk my entire business, everything I have” for truth and justice.
Kattan has received threats against her life in attempts to silence her. She admitted that though this did scare her, she is more fearful of not standing with what is right: supporting the rights of innocent Palestinians who continue to lose everything.
Kattan uses her platform to share the Palestinian narrative to her large contingency of Western followers. A month into the war, she announced her donation of $1 million US dollars to humanitarian organizations in Gaza. In response to a comment on social media about the boycott of her products, Kattan responded, “I don't want blood money.”
5- Rabia and Ibtisam Bin Omran, Libyan animal rights activists
Under the challenging circumstances in Libya, street animals remain among the most vulnerable to violence, hunger, and harm. Those advocating for animal protection and rights have also been subjected to harm, persecution, and baseless accusations.
Sisters Rabia and Ibtisam Bin Omran were arrested and accused of “practicing witchcraft and sorcery” in March 2023. This followed a raid on the Libyan Society for the Welfare of Street Animals, managed by the sisters who care for at least 200 dogs and cats. Their arrest was triggered by their talk of animals being subjected to rape and slaughter. However, they were arrested after reports of “strange rituals and disturbing sounds” from the sisters’ place.
After about a week of detention, which sparked outrage within the local animal welfare community, the sisters were released on bail and later fully acquitted. Nevertheless, the persecution and detention were another indication of violence against women and the harassment of female activists in public and human rights affairs.
6- Norhan al-Tshani, Libyan paramedic and social activist
During the crisis caused by Hurricane Daniel and its catastrophic aftermath in the city of Derna, Libyan civil activist Norhan al-Tshani volunteered with the Red Crescent to provide support, to the best of her ability, to her devastated people, despite the magnitude of the challenges facing relief efforts at that time.
What added to al-Tshani’s impact is that she lost many members of her family, including her brother, uncle and cousin, in addition to “half of her entire tribe” in the disaster. However, according to her, there was “no time for grief” as she continued to prioritize relief efforts.
As interest in the situation in Derna wanes as time passes since the disaster, al-Tshani continues to shed light on the environmental catastrophe, its damage and long-term repercussions on the city and its residents through the hashtag #Don'tYouDareForgetDerna. Many Libyans expressed gratitude online for al-Tshani’s efforts.
Despite the attacks on her and her brand Huda Beauty, Huda Kattan continues to support the people of Gaza. She admitted she was afraid of certain threats, but that she is more afraid of not standing with what is right and the innocent people who have lost everything
7- Lubna Al-Kanawati, Syrian human rights advocate
As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime is increasingly normalized after years of isolation, Lubna, deputy head of the Women Now for Development, spoke during a session on Syria at the Security Council. She discussed the re-emergence of popular protests against the Syrian regime in the southern provinces due to poor living conditions, rampant poverty, drugs, crime, and oppression.
Al-Kanawati, herself a survivor of the chemical attack on Eastern Ghouta near Damascus in 2013, denounced the “forced repatriation” of Syrians under the emergence of so-called “safe zones She also addressed the situation of Syrian women, 12 years after the start of the ongoing revolution and civil war.
Her efforts, along with those of other Syrians, have contributed to bringing a number of Syrian officials to trial in European countries.
8- Zainab Zainab Al-Ghunaimi, Gaza feminist and human rights activist
Through her daughter, writer and poet Farah Barqawi, and various local platforms, Palestinian activist Zainab Al-Ghunaimi narrates the reality of life in Gaza.
At nearly 70 years old, and in threat of danger and forcible evacuation, struggling to find water or food for survival, Al-Ghunaimi considers her writing a crucial form of resilience and a refusal to silence the voices of Gazans and Palestinians.
On the 63rd day of the war, Al-Ghunaimi shared, “We in the Gaza Strip, those of us who were displaced or those who remained in their city and homes, martyrs and living alike, have never once chosen death or destruction. We had our dreams and hopes, women, men, and children, always striving for the dream of a happy life. But this life and this living have no meaning without dignity. Therefore, we, the steadfast, resilient and patient people in Gaza, strive in each remaining moment to preserve life with dignity so that we can call our lives life.”
9- Fatima Al-Arwali, Yemeni human rights activist
At the start of December, the Houthi Criminal Court in Sanaa sentenced Fatima Al-Arwali to death, accusing her of “spying for the UAE” following an “unlawful and unfair” trial based on “confessions extracted under torture” according to human rights activists. Al-Arwali, born in the UAE, traveled frequently to the Emirates after her marriage, and spent time in Yemen to visit family.
She was arrested by the Houthis in August 2022 and subjected to numerous violations. She was held in an underground room for prolonged pretrial detention, with no permission for familial visits, according to Amnesty International. Grazia Caritci, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at the organization, stated that this case is “another glaring reminder of how the Houthis exploit the specialized criminal court as a tool for repression, in a mockery of justice.”
10- Hend Sabri, Tunisian actress
In her artistic, business, and humanitarian endeavors, Hend Sabri strives to set the precedent in her human, and especially women’s, rights advocacy.
A few weeks ago, Sabri announced her resignation from her position as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), following 13 years of service, citing a “sense of helplessness” in “preventing the use of starvation as a weapon of war.”
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