Honoring 30 Influential Arab American Women for International Women’s Day
BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer
International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate the accomplishments of women who have ushered us into a globalized, technologically advanced, and healthy world. Arab American women in particular deserve our respect and attention today for the massive milestones they’ve reached and better community they’ve built for all.
However, this day would not exist if there wasn’t more work that still needs to be done. Globally, only 50 percent of all women are in the workforce, which is why this year, the theme for International Women’s Day is “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”.
By 2030, the United Nations would like see a world where this gender work gap is closed. In order to inspire more girls to join their local economies, Arab America has compiled a list of 30 Arab American women who have been influencing U.S. society for decades. Some light up America with their work; others are the first in their field; and some are unsung heroes.
The women are listed in no particular order. Arab America recognizes that there are many more women who are worthy of mention. Please tell us your recommendations in the comments below!
1. Suzanne Sareini
Suzanne Sareini made history as the first Arab American ever elected to Dearborn, Michigan’s City Council. As a resident in the most densely populated Arab American city, her victory in 1989 helped dozens of other Arab Americans run for public office and serve their communities.
2. Helen Thomas
Helen Thomas was a famed author and journalist, well known for being the first female member and president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, as well as the first female officer of the National Press Club. Her career lasted 70 years, covering 11 presidential administrations.
3. Kathy Najimy
Kathy Najimy is an American actress and comedian most known for her roles in Sister Act, Hocus Pocus, Veep, and King of the Hill. Najimy has been using her celebrity status to be an outspoken activist for women’s rights, animal rights, gay rights, and feminist causes.
4. Dr. Najat Khelil
Dr. Khelil is a champion of both science and activist. In 1974, she became the first woman in the State of Texas to earn a Ph.D. in nuclear physics. She has taught at many prestigious universities, all while advancing Arab causes. Throughout her lifetime, she has been a founder, president or advisor for several Arab American organizations, including the Union of Palestinian American Women, the Palestinian American Congress, the Arab Women’s Council, and the Palestinian Youth Organization.
5. Diane Rehm
Diane Rehm is not only a famous name, but also a famous voice. From 1979 to 2016, she hosted The Diane Rehm Show, an NPR call-in show that discussed numerous topics at length. She has interviewed former presidents, celebrities, and journalists on the ground in war zones. Her features earned her many industry awards and inspired many female journalists to join the world of reporting.
6. Queen Noor of Jordan
Born Lisa Najeeb Halaby to Arab American parents, Queen Noor is an international humanitarian figure and widow of King Hussein of Jordan. She uses her voice to advocate for Middle East peace-building, cultural understanding, refugee recovery, climate change and poverty alleviation, and disarmament.
7. Salma Hayek
Although born in Mexico to a Lebanese father and Mexican mother, Salma Hayek has become one of the most recognizable Arab Americans. Since 1989, she has starred in numerous award-winning films, such as Frida, Wild Wild West, and Fools Rush In. Aside from her filmmaking career, Hayek is an activist for female victims of domestic abuse, immigrant rights, and refugees. In 2015, she produced the film Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, an animated film adapted from the famous book The Prophet.
8. Dina Habib Powell
Dina Habib Powell is acclaimed for her extensive resume in both the fields of business and politics. She is currently the Assistant to the President and Senior Counselor for Economic Initiatives for President Donald Trump. She also served in the George W. Bush administration for two years before becoming president of the Goldman Sach’s Foundation. As a corporate leader, she built the 10,000 Women and 10,000 Small Businesses plan to help give female entrepreneurs loans to open businesses.
9. Christa McAuliffe
Christa McAuliffe comes from a very diverse background, but her Arab roots are still recognized. She was a teacher from Concord, New Hampshire, who was selected from more than 11,000 applicants to participate in the NASA Teacher in Space Project. She was tragically killed when the Challenger Space Shuttle broke apart after only 73 seconds in flight. She was supposed to be the first teacher in space, and while she didn’t make it to space, she inspired other professionals and women to do what she could not.
10. Donna Shalala
Donna Shalala is most known for serving as the Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 2001. She is the first Arab American to serve in a cabinet position, and is the longest serving HHS secretary. Shalala went on to become president of the University of Miami and chancellor before becoming president of the Clinton Foundation in 2015.
11. Etel Adnan
Etel Adnan was once named the most accomplished Arab American author writing today. At the age of 92, she remains an important figure in the world of art, poetry, and writing. She was a feminist at a young age, leaving her home in Lebanon at only 24 to pursue her career. Since then, she has attained high degrees, taught in many schools, been studied by students of art, and had her work displayed in countless exhibits.
12. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a pediatrician at Hurley Medical Center and professor at Michigan State University. She became a household name in 2015, when she exposed the Flint Water Crisis, which exposed children of Flint, Michigan to dangerous levels of lead. She advocates for children, immigrants, and women in STEM.
13. Marlo Thomas
Marlo Thomas is an award-winning actress best known for her role on the television show That Girl from 1966-71. She is also the author of an award-winning feminist children’s book called Free to Be… You and Me. During the 1970s feminist movement, she joined Gloria Steinem, Patricia Carbin the Ms. Foundation for Women, the first women’s fund in the U.S. Her career and activism for women’s issues continue to this day.
14. Sherrie Mikhail Miday
Sherrie Mikhail Miday is the first Arab American to serve as judge of the Cuyahoga County Commons Pleas Court in Ohio. She won her seat in the November 2016 election, and now presides over Ohio’s largest county court dealing with some of the most difficult civil cases and crimes. She is motivated by her Egyptian immigrant parents to make the world a better place.
15. Hoda Kotb
Hoda Kotb speaks to millions of Americans every morning on her Emmy-award winning Today Show on NBC. As a talk show host, she has sat down with American leaders, emerging artists, and new correspondents. She is also a breast cancer survivor and an advocate for women’s health issues.
16. Linda Sarsour
Linda Sarsour is one of the most prominent activists for progressive politics in the country. She is the former executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, and co-chair of the Women’s March. She is an unabashed advocate for rights of all people: immigrants, Muslims, women, black victims of police violence, Standing Rock Native Americans, and more.
17. Reem Acra
Reem Acra is one of the most famous wedding gown designers in the world. After starting her career in 1997, she has been dressing celebrities, such as Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, Reese Witherspoon, Angelina Jolie, and Melania Trump. She works out of both New York and Beirut, and is considered a trailblazer for Arab fashion designers.
18.Charlene Mekled Elder
Charlene Mekled Elder was appointed to the Wayne County 3rd Circuit Court by then Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm in 2006. She was the first Muslim female judge to ever serve in the U.S. and the first Arab American judge to speak Arabic fluently. She serves as a role model for Arab women around the world with her breakthrough career in law.
19. Dr. Huda Zoghbi
Dr. Huda Y. Zoghbi is one of the world’s leading researchers and physicians. She is a professor of Pediatrics, Molecular and Human Genetics, and Neurology and Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine, and the winner of dozens of prizes for her breakthrough research in Alzheimer’s disease, in particular. Her mother is the one who persuaded her to study biology, instead of English, making her a role model for the next generation of Arab women.
20. Gigi Hadid
Gigi Hadid is one of the highest paid models in the world right now. She has put an Arab face into an industry that has been criticized for its lack of diversity for decades. As a proud Palestinian, Hadid has made statements about Trump’s Muslim Ban and Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza. She also made history in March of 2017 by becoming the first person to ever grace the cover of Vogue Arabia.
21. Randa Jarrar
Randa Jarrar is an award-winning novelist, essayist, and translator who has published monumental books on minorities in America. She is also a creative writing teacher, helping to usher in a new era of brown and immigrant voices in the field of literature in America.
22. Selwa Roosevelt
Selwa Roosevelt, also known as “Lucky”, is a journalist and freelance writer, who is known for her ability to bring people together with conflicting personalities and backgrounds. She was also Chief of Protocol of the United States from 1982-1989, serving longer than anyone else in that position. Although she has been criticized for rejecting the Arabic language in order to feel more American, Roosevelt remains an icon for Arab women in the field of journalism.
23. Zainab Salbi
Zainab Salbi is the founder of one of the world’s most respectable non-profits, Women for Women International. She is a humanitarian, media personality, and author who has used her activism to make real change for women around the world. She is known for her work with rape victims and female survivors of war in places like former Yugoslavia, Rawanda, Colombia, Sudan, and other nations.
24. Maysoon Zayid
Maysoon Zayid is a comedian and political commentator with one of the most-watched Ted Talks of all time. She is one of America’s first female Muslim comedians, who uses her cerebral palsy to inspire others to be activists in their communities. She has helped other Arab American female comics find their voice in the industry, and also spends three months a year helping disabled and orphaned Palestinian children use art to deal with trauma at her camp in Palestine.
25. Rosemary Barkett
Rosemary Barkett was the first woman to ever serve of Florida’s Supreme Court. She became the Chief Justice in Florida, propelling her into a long career as a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, as well as a Judge of the Iran–United States Claims Tribunal. In 1986, she was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame for her strides in law.
26. Hala Gorani
Hala Gorani is the CNN International London-based Anchor and Correspondent and anchors CNN’s The World Right Now with Hala Gorani on weeknights. She has reported from every country in the Middle East and has interviewed prominent American and Arab political leaders. She often speaks to American viewers on Arab issues, which often either go ignored, underreported, or misinterpreted by non-Arab anchors.
27. Callie Khouri
Callie Khouri is a film and television screenwriter, producer, and director who has led the way for feminist productions with strong female leads. She is best known for writing Thelma & Louise, Mad Money, and The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. She is honored in the National Women’s History Museum for her devotion to feminist filmmaking.
28. Victoria Reggie Kennedy
Victoria Reggie Kennedy is a lawyer and widow of popular Senator Ted Kennedy. Her parents were active in the Democratic Party and ensured that she had an excellent education. She was a bank and bankruptcy law attorney during her days of practice, and is a recipient of the “Woman of the 21st Century” award from the Women’s Guild of Cedars-Sinai.
29. Lucie Salhany
Lucie Salhany is a media executive most known for being the first female to head a broadcast television network. She headed Fox Broadcasting Company in 1993 and, at one point, was the most powerful woman in an executive management position in America. She is also the founder of the United Paramount Network, or UPN, now known as The CW.
30. Diana Abu Jaber
Diana Abu Jaber is an award-winning author and professor at Portland State University. She has written many works on identity and humanitarian issues, which have sprung important conversations on Arab American roles in society. She has published multiple books, essays, and critical studies that have discussed Arab American writers and musicians.