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My name is Masa Al-Kutoubi and I live in Beirut, Lebanon. I am studying in high school and am now in the 11th grade. For this year we have an extended essay about the subject of our choice. I have chosen the topic of famous Arab feminists and I was wiondering if you could possibly help me to find information about either the rise of feminism in the Middle East or the women that helped to spread feminism in the Middle East. I would sincerly appreciate it if you could give me either sites or names of the women. Thank you very much. Sincerely, Masa

Thanks for your note. For famous women from the Middle East, I have listed a couple of suggestions. There are also some books that might be able to help:

  • In Israel there was/is Golda Meir, who was Israel's Prime Minister.

  • In Egypt, there was Huda Shaarawi, who was one of the leading revolutionaries in Egypt around the beginning of the 20th century. She established Egypt's first women's philanthropic society for poor women and children. She was a leader of the Feminist Union, the first organization of its kind in the Arab world. She fought for a minimum marriage age, family reform law, restriction of polygamy, education of girls and Egyptian independence. She was also famous for one day in March, 1923, when she took off her veil in front of crowd of women--liberating herself.

  • In Iran, there was Taj Al-Saltana--her autobiography, which was written around 1914, is the earliest known example of Iranian's women's autobiography. Her writings revealed, among other things, the importance of the role played by women in the harem in influencing the state of affairs. Later she helped to establish the "Society for the Emancipation of Women". Her writings proposed a feminist nationalism.

  • In Iraq, Laila of Shaiban-Bakr, a poet from the 8th century, was known for her rejection of a centralized state in favor of an egalitarian stystem of government. In pre-Islamic times, women participated in tribal warfare on the Arabian peninsula. With the advent of Islam, women did not relinquishh their place on the battlefield. She was an early female warrior.

  • In Morocco, Fatimma Mernissi is an famous Muslim feminist whose work has been exported around the world via her many published books. Her work has paved the way for other feminist scholars--especially those exposing/exporing the Muslim world. She teaches today at a University in the United States. Another well known contemporary writer is Ghada Samman, she actually studied at the American University in Beirut--so perhaps you can learn more about her from there.

  • In Tunisia, Vibia Perpetua--was one of the earliest North American Christian Martyrs. She was condemned to death in Carthage in 203 BCE for her refusal to perform a sacrifice honoring the Roman emperor. A record of her experiences while in prison was discovered in the 17th century.

  • In Turkey, Halide Edib Adivar came of age at the beginning of the 20th century. She wrote articles on women's liberation and she was also a novelist.

Most of this information comes from a book called Women Imagine Change: A Global Anthology of Women's Resistance from 600 BCE to the Present. It's chock-full of other great information, too.

I hope that helps with your report.