In a country where women have hardly any recognition, only those who are truly extraordinary can shine. It takes a lot of persistence, perseverance, passion and power to be able to stand up for what you believe in and make a difference, but that didn’t stop these exceptional women.
Here are some of Saudi Arabia’s most influential women that you need to know:
CEO of Olayan Financing Company, Lubna Olayan is one of Saudi Arabia’s most exceptional businesswomen. Olayan has been listed as one of the 100 Influential Women of the World in 2005 by Time magazine and is listed as the 86th most powerful woman of the world in 2014 according to Forbes.
In a country with many restrictions on women, Olayan was a keynote speaker at the Jeddah Economic Forum in 2004, which highlighted her as the first woman to speak at a mixed conference in Saudi Arabia. Olayan sits on the board of trustees of the Arab Thought Foundation – a Beirut-based foundation focusing on issues facing the Arab world – and is a member of the board of Al Fanar, which supports grassroots organisations in the Arab world.
In 2011, Olayan received an honorary law degree from Trinity College, Dublin, the citation for which described her as “a role model for women in the Middle East”.
Princess Ameerah Al- Taweel
Princess Ameerah Al- Taweel is a famous philanthropist and active humanitarian. Focusing on empowering women’s rights and supporting a wide range of humanitarian interests in Saudi Arabia and across the world, Princess Ameerah has opened an orphanage in Burkina Faso and spearheaded humanitarian trips to Pakistan and Somalia.
She serves as the Vice Chairwoman of the Board of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation and has been particularly known to support programs relating to disaster relief, poverty and interfaith dialogue.
Dr. Mona Al Munajjed is not only Saudi Arabia’s foremost sociologist, but a high-profile women’s activist as well. Focusing on activating the economic and educational role of women in Saudi Arabia, Al Munajjed formulated several social development field projects for which she received the UN-21 Award for excellence, outstanding coordination and individual productivity in 2005.
Al Munajjed is also a published author. Her books include Saudi Women Speak; 24 Remarkable Women Tell Their Success Stories (2006) and Women in Saudi Arabia Today (1997). She has also been listed as the ninth of the 100 most influential Arab Women according to Arabian Business.
Haifa Al Mansour
It came as no surprise to find this extraordinary woman ranked second place on Forbes list of 100 most powerful Arab women. Al Mansour is one of Saudi Arabia’s most controversial and well known film directors. She is also the first female filmmaker in the Kingdom.
Her movie, Wadjda, was the first ever Saudi movie to enter the Oscars as Best Foreign Language Movie. With movies surrounding her roots, Al Mansour aims to empower Arab women and help them embrace life with hope through her movies. Receiving death threats doesn’t seem to stop this incredible woman from focusing on her passion and voicing her opinion.
Bayan Mahmoud Al Zahran
In 2013, Bayan Mahmoud Al-Zahran became the first female attorney licensed to practice law in Saudi Arabia and the founder of Saudi Arabia’s first female law firm which focuses on fighting for the rights of local women and help courts to understand legal disputes from a female perspective.
Al Zahran has been listed as the 7th of the world’s 100 most powerful women according to Arabian Business. Looks like a brighter future is on it’s way to Saudi Arabia thanks to this woman.
Dr. Hayat Sindi is a Saudi Arabian medical scientist and one of the first female members of the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia. Five years after graduating from King’s College with a degree in pharmacology, Sindi became the first woman from the Gulf to obtain a Ph.D in biotechnology from Cambridge.
Sindi also co-founded and is currently director of Diagnostics For All, a nonprofit fusing biotechnology and microfluidics, dedicated to creating low-cost, easy-to-use, point-of-care diagnostics designed specifically for the 60% of the developing world that lives beyond the reach of urban hospitals and medical infrastructures.
That’s not where this incredible woman’s achievements stop, Sindi has developed a diagnostic tool used for the early detection of breast cancer and the Magnetic Acoustic Resonance Sensor (MARS), among other innovations.
Sindi was appointed a 2011 Emerging Explorer by National Geographic, and, in 2012, was named one of Newsweek’s “150 Women Who Shake the World”, the ninth most influential Arab woman by Arabian Business and a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for science education. In 2013, Sindi won the Arabian Business Award for Medicine and has recently been invited to serve on the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board.
Khawla Al Khuraya
Khawla Al Khuraya is a distinguished physician specialist who has dedicated her knowledge and skill to cancer research. Being the first woman to receive the King Abdulaziz Award for Excellence for her work in the field of cancer research, Al Khuraya is perhaps most famous for identifying a gene that encourages the formation of cancer cells in the human body.
Director of the Research Centre at King Fahad National Centre for Children’s Cancer, Al Khuraya is a leader of genomic cancer research. Not only that, but she was also recently elected to the Shura Council.
Thuraya Ahmed Obaid
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid was appointed as Executive Director of UNFPA on Jan. 1 2001, making her the first Saudi Arabian to head a United Nations agency. Obaid was also the first Saudi woman to receive a government scholarship to study at an American university in 1963.
Working with governments to establish programs to empower women has always been a major part of Obaid’s work. As United Nations Population Fund executive director and an Under-Secretary General Of the United Nations, she has introduced a special focus on culture and religion in the fund’s development work.
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