Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

Women in science in the Arab world


Today is the 100th anniversary of the International Women’s Day – and there is no better time to celebrate the amazing influence that some women scientists are having in the Arab world. They are an aspiration to both men and women, and are true superheroes of science!

Here are a few of my favourite examples (please note, this list is far from inclusive):

Faiza Al-Kharafi

Al-Kharafi is a well-known Kuwaiti scientist who has studied in the Ain Shams University in Egypt. She has been involved in science since a young age. She won the 2011 L’Oreal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science for her work on the corrosion of metals, a problem of fundamental importance to water treatment and oil industries (and, obviously, of paramount importance to Kuwait.)

In 1993, she became president of Kuwait University, becoming the first female to head such a large educational institute in the country.

For many girls and women with ambitions in science she became a symbol and inspiration.

Today, she is the vice-president of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, and a strong supporter of female scientists in the Arab world.

Nadia El-Awady

El-Awady has often set the track for science journalism in the Arab world. A doctor by training, she moved into science journalism and became a strong supporter of this profession in the Arab world during its infancy.

Her career then is a series of “firsts”. She was the founding president of the Arab Science Journalists Association in 2007. In 2009, she became the president of the World Federation of Science Journalists, becoming the first Arab to hold this position.

During the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, she was on the front lines as a revolutionary protester and a dedicated journalist, reporting to international media outlets about the ongoings on the street on a regular basis.

Last (but definitely not least) she has been my mentor since my early days in science journalism, something I’m immensely grateful for!

Nagwa Abdel Meguid

Abdel Meguid was the first Arab laureate for the L’Oréal Awards for Women In Science. The Egyptian geneticist won the award for her research in same blood marriages (very popular in the Arab region) and their effect on the higher rate of birth defects and genetic disorders.

Women scientists are often under-represented in Egypt. On receiving the award, Abdel Meguid commented how this award was a major step for women in the Arab world. “We can and do make a difference in the international field of science and it is my hope that my achievement today is yet a further inspiration to these women,” she added.

In 1994, she introduced a new service of early intervention in the genetics department in Cairo. Children, especially those with Down Syndrome, are evaluated and their development is tracked and monitored with computer assisted techniques designed by her team. As a result regular improvements in cognitive and motor skills have been achieved, thus improving some children’s overall quality of life.

Hayat Sindi

Sindi is an inspirational young woman researcher born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. From a very young age, Sindi says she has been inspired by science and scientists, such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Al-Khwarizmi, Einstein and Marie Curie. Inspired by her young superheroes, Sindi chose to become a scientist to “make a difference to the world.”

She is the first woman from the Gulf States to receive a PhD in biotechnology from Cambridge University.

Hayat Sindi is today a nanotechnology researcher working to deliver affordable point-of-care diagnostic solutions to the developing world through the not-for-profit Diagnostics For All. She has invented a machine combining the effects of light and ultrasound for use in biotechnology.

She was described by Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to the UK, as “a model Arab woman.”

Like I said earlier, there are many, many more equally inspirational Arab women scientists in the region. If you have other suggestions to add to the list, please do post in the comments section below.

But for now, lets acknowledge the important role that women scientists play in our communities – and the need to maximize on that and increase it since they still have a long way to go towards gender equality.


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