To become an inspiration for others is a tough task. It requires guts, toil, blood, sweat and tears. And if such achievers break through in the face of tough social circumstances and by tearing down typecast gender roles, their laurels reach unbelievable heights and need unparalleled respect.
Five such inspirational women grace the social fabric of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. This listing is a tribute to their incredible achievements and reflects no ranking or order of success.
1. Major Mariam Al Mansouri, UAE
Known on social media as ‘Lady Liberty’, Major Mariam is the first female fighter pilot of the UAE. She flies an F-16 Fighting Falcon and has led UAE mission airstrikes. Her exploits with a squadron of F-16 fighter jets were trending on social media after her raids on terrorist positions. She was one of the first women to join the UAE Air Force academy after women were allowed to join, graduating in 2007. In an interview published in Gulf News, Major Mariam has said that striving for success in a male-dominated field required her to first and foremost compete with herself and pave her own path in developing her own abilities, adding that her family supported her career goals, but she had to overcome gender stereotypes along the way. Major Mariam was among nine people who received the UN Asia Society’s Game Changer Award. She has also received the Mohammed bin Rashid Pride of the Emirates medal, named for the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, for her excellence in the field.
2. Lubna Olayan, Saudi Arabia
The only woman in a 4000-strong workforce for 18 years, Olayan was the first woman in Saudi Arabia to deliver a keynote address at the Jeddah Economic Forum in 2004. The CEO of the Olayan Financing Company, she has been ranked #1 on the latest Forbes list of 100 most powerful Arab business women and also falls in the top 100 most powerful women in the world. She has steered her 30-company conglomerate through a period of significant expansion. Olayan was also the first woman elected to a board position in the Kingdom, joining the Saudi Hollandi Bank in 2004. She is also a member of the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum, and the International Advisory Board of the Council on Foreign Relations. Even as she helps guide Saudi women into roles they’ve never held before, from factory work to sales and management, Olayan is careful to respect Saudi Arabia’s deeply religious culture and traditions.
3. Sheikha Dr. Alia Humaid Al Qassimi, UAE
Named ‘Inspirational Woman of the Year’ at the Arab Woman Awards 2016, Dr Al Qassimi was first Emirati gynaecologist to gain senior membership in the European Society of Aesthetic (ESAG) and to be appointed to the Scientific Committee for the ESAG World Congress 2017 due to take place in Madrid, Spain later this year. Internationally certified in mastering innovative surgical and non-surgical gynaecology services, she has years of experience at Dubai Health Authority. Dr Al Qassimi is also a certified Basic Life Support instructor who trains and evaluates health care professionals. She thrives on empowering women and raising their confidence.
4. Somayya Jabarti, Saudi Arabia
Editor-in-chief of the Jeddah-based English daily Saudi Gazette, Somayya Jabarti was the first female journalist to be promoted to such a public position. Years of experience in the newspaper business as a reporter and Deputy-in-Chief of the only two English publications in Saudi Arabia, Jabarti has the distinction of being the only Saudi reporter on the ground to cover Egypt’s 2011 revolution. Selected as one of the BBC 100 Women List in 2015, Jabarti was listed as one of Arabian Business Top 100 Most Powerful Arab Women in 2014 and 2015 and among Al Arabiya’s Top 10 Muslim women that made headlines in 2014. One among the series of pioneering Saudi women who are transforming the face of journalism in the Kingdom, Jabarti told Al Arabiya English, “There’s a crack that has been made in the glass ceiling. And I’m hoping it will be made into a door.”
5. Safa Abdul Rahman Al Hashem, Kuwait
The only woman to win a seat in Kuwait’s parliamentary elections last year, Al Hashem was reinstated only a few hours before the elections were held. By winning her seat, Al Hashem became the ninth woman to be elected to the parliament since women obtained the right to vote and run in national elections in 2005. A former lawmaker, Al Hashem made history by becoming the first woman to win in three parliamentary elections – December 2012, July 2013 and November 2016. In July 2013, the liberal lawmaker made history by becoming the first woman in Kuwait to win in two consecutive parliamentary elections.