5 Pioneering Women From Hivos’ Timeline of the Women’s Movement In Lebanon

July 30, 2019

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By Laudy Issa

The Hivos timeline released earlier this year documents the groundbreaking achievements and historical stances that women in Lebanon have been making since as early as 1906.

The women’s movement timeline, created by the Women Empowered for Leadership program in partnership with Lebanon Support and Urika Agency, allows us to rethink history from a gender lens. From journalists to physicists, here are 6 pioneering women to know from the Hivos timeline:

  • Anbara Salam Khalidi, a pioneering Lebanese feminist, translator, and author who established the Awakening of the Young Arab Woman society in 1915 to help finance young women’s education in a time when educating women was controversial. In 1926, she caused a scandal and contributed to the veiling debate in the country when she publicly took off her veil in a lecture at the American University of Beirut.
  • Aminah Khoury Makdisi, a journalist from the North of Lebanon who collected the biographies of the pioneering women of her time and published them in 1958 under the title of Hamelat al-Nour (“Carriers of Light”). She also launched a scientific and literary magazine in 1923.
    The WE4L timeline of the women’s movement in Lebanon achieves what she hoped to do more than 50 years ago.
    “No doubt that in our Arab East, especially in Lebanon, there is a big group of women enlighteners who dispelled the darkness spread by ignorance,” reads her book. “As leaders of social movements and pioneers in humanitarian services, they contributed to building our modern civilisations. And so I hope there would be someone who collects their biographies to commemorate their memory for the generations to come.” 
  • Salwa Nassar, the first woman to study at the American University of Beirut’s Mathematics Department. She would go on to earn her M.S. in Physics from Smith College in Boston under a scholarship program and her Ph.D. in “Cosmic Ray Showers” from the University of California. Finally, she would set another precedent in Lebanon’s education field as the first woman to chair the Physics Department at the American University of Beirut. 
  • Feryal Daloul, the first woman to be appointed to the Supreme Judicial Council in 2006. She was also the youngest of the new judges selected by the ex-Prime Minister, and her appointment would have positive implications for the active participation of women in the Lebanese judiciary. Today, 48 percent of judges in Lebanon are women. 
  • Nazira Zain al-Din, and activist, author, and one of the first women to discuss the issues of women in Islam. She advocated for women’s rights to education and accessing political office after studying Islamic doctrines in the Quran and hadith. Her books on veiling would lead Muslim clergy to accuse her of apostasy. 
  • Bahia Baalbaky, an educator and activist who co-founded the Independent Syndicate Current to represent the interests of secondary school teachers. Her activism would begin after taking part in a 1967 march in Beirut to protest the 1967 resignation of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. She would advocate for women’s rights from then on, particularly focusing on the need for equal working conditions for women and men in the public sector and the need for equality with regards to state benefits. Currently, Baalbaky is the Head of the Educational Affairs Committee in Public Secondary Schools’ Teachers of Lebanon.