In the realm of women's empowerment. The Kingdom has seen a wave of change that has allowed Saudi women to break barriers and set new standards across various fields. In 2023, these 11 inspiring Saudi women have emerged as trailblazers, challenging societal norms and contributing significantly to the progress of their nation.
Rayyanah Barnawi is a trailblazing figure in the field of biomedical research and space exploration. As the first Saudi female astronaut, she achieved a historic milestone by being selected for Axiom Mission 2 as a Mission Specialist by the Saudi Space Commission. This groundbreaking announcement was officially made on February 12, 2023.
On May 22, 2023, Rayyanah Barnawi made history once again by arriving at the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX ship Crew Dragon Freedom. Her journey marked her as the first Arab woman in space, adding another significant chapter to space exploration. Her inclusion in the mission also represented the 600th person to fly in Earth orbit.
Prior to her astronautical pursuits, Barnawi worked as a research laboratory technician at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Riyadh. Her expertise in biomedical research is now being applied in conducting mission experiments as part of Axiom Mission 2. Rayyanah Barnawi's journey exemplifies the intersection of scientific excellence and a pioneering spirit, inspiring future generations in Saudi Arabia and beyond.
Safeya Binzagr, a trailblazing figure in Saudi art, is recognized for playing a crucial role in nurturing the Kingdom's art scene. With a deep passion for showcasing her country's heritage, Safeya founded the Darat Safeya Binzagr foundation, encompassing her library, paintings, and research on women's traditional attire.
Despite initiating her foundation in 1995, Safeya remains actively involved in preserving her artwork. She continues to welcome art donations, organizes painting competitions for children, delivers lectures for adults, and remains dedicated to her own artistic pursuits.
While Safeya's contributions may not be perceived as a cutting-edge tech startup capable of transforming lives by today's standards, her work holds immense significance in preserving history and establishing an authentic haven for art in the Kingdom.
Mariam Saleh Binladen
Dr. Mariam Saleh bin Laden, a remarkable Saudi individual, stands as the first Arab and Saudi woman to achieve the extraordinary feat of swimming from Saudi Arabia to Egypt via the Strait of Tiran in the Red Sea. In 2022, she embarked on this challenging journey not only to showcase her swimming prowess but, more importantly, to raise awareness about the refugee crisis in Syria. Dr. Mariam had previously etched her name in history in 2016 when she became the first person, and notably the first Saudi woman, to solo swim the entire length of the English Channel, setting a new record for the Kingdom.
Beyond her aquatic achievements, Dr. Mariam is deeply committed to humanitarian causes. In 2016, she played a pivotal role in establishing the first dental clinic at a hospital in Jordan's Al Azraq Refugee Camp. This clinic serves as a beacon of hope, providing free dental services to those in need, underscoring Dr. Mariam's dedication to making a positive impact on the lives of others.
Nujood Ashemimry is not your average trailblazer—she's a groundbreaking figure in aerospace engineering, a maverick entrepreneur, a skilled pilot, and a notable influencer. Breaking through the skies and societal norms, she became the first female aerospace engineer in the Gulf region. At the remarkable age of 26, Nujood founded her own rocket company, MISHAAL Aerospace, proving that the sky is not the limit for her aspirations.
In 2022, Nujood achieved yet another milestone by being elected as the vice president of the International Astronautical Federation. This historic appointment marked her as the first Saudi woman to hold such a prestigious position in the realm of space exploration. Nujood's academic journey is equally impressive, holding a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics and aerospace engineering, as well as a master’s degree in aerospace engineering, both earned at the Florida Institute of Technology.
Her contributions have not gone unnoticed, earning her the Inspirational Woman of the Year Award at the Arab Women Awards in 2015. Further recognition came in 2018 when she received an award for her scientific achievements from none other than King Salman bin Abdulaziz. Nujood Ashemimry's story is one of breaking barriers, reaching for the stars, and inspiring generations to come.
Nawal al-Hawsawi, often dubbed the "Rosa Parks of Saudi Arabia," embodies an indomitable spirit as a female pilot in the country. Alongside her achievements in aviation, she serves as a mental health counselor and marriage therapist.
Al-Hawsawi is the founder of the therapy provider Soundheart.org, and her passionate advocacy against racism and sexism has made her a social media phenomenon, garnering an impressive following of 50,000 on Twitter.
Haifa Al Mansour
Haifaa Al Mansour is more than a filmmaker; she's a trailblazer, breaking barriers and reshaping the narrative in the Saudi film industry. A true pioneer, she holds the distinction of being the first Saudi female filmmaker. Al Mansour embarked on her academic journey studying comparative literature at The American University in Cairo. Her passion for storytelling led her to pursue a master's degree in Film Studies at the University of Sydney, Australia.
Al Mansour's directorial debut, "Wadjda" (2012), marked a groundbreaking moment in cinema. The film, which revolves around a young girl's determined quest to own a bicycle in Saudi Arabia, garnered international critical acclaim. It also held the distinction of being the first feature-length film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia by a female director. This accomplishment speaks volumes about Al Mansour's resilience and her commitment to bringing untold stories to the forefront.
Her filmography extends beyond "Wadjda" to include notable works such as "The Perfect Candidate" (2019) and "Mary Shelley" (2017). Through her lens, Haifaa Al Mansour is not just telling stories; she's challenging stereotypes, fostering representation, and leaving an indelible mark on the global cinematic landscape.
Jomona Al-Rashid is a prominent figure in the media landscape, currently serving as the CEO of SRMG since October 2020. Her journey to this leadership role includes notable positions such as senior media advisor and communications director at the Saudi Embassy in London. Beyond her role at SRMG, she holds several other high-profile positions, showcasing her multifaceted expertise.
Among her noteworthy responsibilities, Mona Al-Rashid serves as the Chairperson of the Red Sea Film Festival Foundation, contributing to the vibrant world of cinema. Additionally, she holds the position of Chairman of Thmanyah Publishing and Distribution, further extending her influence across diverse facets of the media industry.
Mona Al-Rashid's strategic vision and extensive experience mark her as a key player in shaping the narrative of media and cultural initiatives, both locally and globally. Her leadership reflects a commitment to advancing the media landscape in Saudi Arabia and beyond.
Lujain Abulfaraj, a Saudi entrepreneur, creative, and mother, wears many hats in the design realm. As the co-founder of Twothirds Design Studio and the founder of Akwan, she boasts over a decade of experience in branding. Abulfaraj has left her creative mark on clients spanning various sectors across the Gulf, skillfully crafting brand identities. Drawing inspiration from cultural aesthetics, Arabic typography, and a penchant for experimental designs, she has a special focus on creating for children and the Arabic language.
Al Homoud, a Saudi Arabian artist based in the United Kingdom, is a master at blending calligraphy, mathematics, and Islamic art in her creations. Drawing inspiration from both Western and Islamic artists, she skillfully deconstructs Arabic script to form a distinctive visual language. Her artistic prowess has earned her exhibitions in prestigious international museums like the British Museum and LACMA. Al Homoud's talent extends beyond her personal artistry; she has contributed to various international events by designing logos and calligraphic panels. Since 1999, she has curated international exhibitions, leaving an indelible mark on the global art scene. Notably, her work is part of the Saudi Curriculum and has been showcased in exhibitions worldwide. Al Homoud's influence extends to her role as a board member of the Art and Design Association in Saudi Arabia.
Tamara Al-Gabbani is a Saudi fashion designer, television personality, and model1. She grew up in Dubai and attended school in London1. Al-Gabbani was the face of DKNY and Dolce & Gabbana for their modest collections1. She founded the fashion brands House of Glamo and Tamara Al Gabbani in 20111. Her main collections are of evening gowns, jalabiyas, and abayas1. Her collection was launched at Burj Khalifa and is sold at Village Mall and The Dubai Mall.
She was awarded Best Dressed at Cannes Film Festival in her own designs, the first time for an Arab woman1. She is also a brand ambassador for Jaipur Gems1. In February 2018, she debuted a collection at the Best of Global Modest Fashion show during London Modest Fashion Week1.
Bayan AlSadiq's journey into the world of photography began in December 2010, a transformative decision that would shape her career. Hailing from the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, AlSadiq initially embraced photography as a passion, capturing moments with family and friends, documenting travels, and finding inspiration in the streets.
Her photographic prowess gained attention when she decided to go commercial in November 2011. To further refine her skills, AlSadiq pursued formal education in photography at various institutions in New York City. This step opened doors to contracts with high-profile clients in New York and later in the much-coveted city of Paris.
AlSadiq's impressive portfolio now includes collaborations with renowned establishments such as the Four Seasons Hotel (New York, Riyadh, and Dubai), Plaza Athenee Hotel (Paris), Le Meurice Hotel (Paris), Baccarat (Paris), Fortnum & Mason (Dubai), and Ladurée (Paris and Dubai), among many others. Her work has garnered acclaim, earning her features in international publications.
A notable moment in AlSadiq's career was her Wall Street Journal photoshoot in August 2018, capturing the historic moment when women in the traditionally conservative city of Qassim began driving following the lifting of the decades-long driving ban. This assignment marked the beginning of her role as a contributing photographer for the Journal.
Bayan AlSadiq's journey showcases not only her technical skill but also her ability to document significant cultural moments, making her a respected figure in the world of photography.
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