From Nawal el Sadaawi To Mona Nemer: Arab Female Leaders That Have Created Change!

Women and feminists all over the world, listen up! The month of March is here, also known as National Women’s History Month. For every question that gets asked: why do women need a whole month, and does it even concern or include the MENA region? Here’s why!

March in March 

On March 8, 1857. A group of women staged a protest in New York, USA against poor working conditions. In 1981 Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28 which authorized and requested the President to claim the week beginning March 7, 1982, as “Women’s History Week.”

Since 1987, March has been designated also through the congress request to the president, as National Women’s History Month, a time to pay tribute to and celebrate the generations of women who changed the shape of society with their activism and courage.

Since then, the first-ever Women’s Day was celebrated in 1909. The whole world celebrates women’s history month over the years through various acts of activism and solidarity with the women of the world, specifically the MENA region. 

Just Got Here

It is a known fact that the MENA region leads in some fields and is kind of behind on some other fronts. Feminism is western in origin and it took its time to get all the way here to our traditional, strict, and diverse neighborhood. But, better late than never. For instance, Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia are promising to enable women as leaders of governmental sectors and judicial ones too! Egypt has recently put women in a judge’s chair for the first time ever in its history. 

GCC countries are also flourishing with female empowerment, like in the UAE with the highest rate of educated women, Saudi with the allowing of women to drive and work as drivers. And Kuwait rejected a law that deems dressing up as a woman a crime. 

It seems like the whole MENA region is being fully involved in celebrating and empowering its women with every passing March. 

Leading Ladies 

In the spirit of women’s history month, let’s remember all the ladies from the MENA region who led and still lead the way for women across the countries of the region. 

Lotfia Elnadi


In 1933, Lotfia Elnadi was the first female pilot ever in Egypt. She took her first flight after just 67 days of aviation school, also in the same year she won a flying race and got praise-amongst other prizes- from the leading feminist at the time Huda Sha’arawi. Even though she came from a strict family who opposed her participating in the work field at the beginning, that quickly changed once she gained publicity and recognition as the first African and Egyptian woman to be a pilot. All that is because of her determination and resilience.

Huda Sha’arawi

She was the catalyst against the British colonization of Egypt and managed to form a group of women to retaliate and make a change since the British imprisoned most men who opposed them back at the time.

Then, she formed the Egyptian Feminist Union. Putting the liberation of Egyptian women in action, making it a point that women do not just belong inside the house for servitude of the man. But do really belong in everyday life moving society forward side by side with men.

Nawal El Saadawi

We definitely can’t forget about one of the most outrageous, controversial leading ladies in feminism in Egypt, Nawal El Saadawi who was just like her predecessors a force of nature and her own person. Even though she was deemed as crazy, a heathen, and a heretic for the majority of her career as a writer for speaking against violence against women and genital mutilation, that is reinforced by misconceptions about the religion. Her work and words only shine brighter nowadays, years after she’s gone. With the new laws banning such heinous acts against young girls both legislation-wise and from religious institutes.

Mona Nemer

Moving to another pillar of feminism in the MENA region, also a country with unstoppable women.

Lebanon, with the Likes of scientists and educators who left their mark globally like Mona Nemer who is a professor of biochemistry and Vice president of research at the University of Ottawa, with many awards and titles to her name for her astounding work in the field of molecular genetics and cardiac regeneration.

Hana El-Samad

Other names of Lebanese female scientists include Hana El-Samad, the Vice-chair in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco. She specializes in control theory and the function of complex biological systems. Her Ph.D. is considered a breakthrough in health innovation via engineering.

Najat Saliba

A leading chemist and environmentalist. She is a professor of Analytical Chemistry and an atmospheric chemist at the American University of Beirut. She was also the Director of AUB’s Nature Conservation Center from 2013 till 2020. And she is the co-founder and director of Khaddit Beirut the Environment Academy.

Her very extensive work on water pipes and their effect on the environment made her a leading female in the field, granting her the Lebanese National Council for Scientific Research Award in the Environmental Category in 2016.

Lastly, even if some of these leading ladies are not with us anymore, their spirit, well-power, and legacy make women want to follow by example, defy all the odds, and make their own path. Let’s all remember them in 2022 Women’s History Month, and be inspired to always support women, on their path to leading us to a better future. 

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