There is a misconception that most Arab women are veiled, oppressed and kept out of sight.

The fact is that there are wide contrasts in the Arab countries. You can find the very rich and the very poor, the very traditional and the very westernized, the very educated and the uneducated.

Generalization about the Arab women is very misleading.


The women in the contemporary Arab world are highly valued and respected. During the last century they participated in many political and nationalist movements.

Examples from various countries include:

One example of women's power is the march in 1919 by women in Cairo, which was known as the "March of Veiled Women". Organized by Huda Shaarawi (1879 - 1947) - founder of the Egyptian Feminist Union – to protest British colonial rule in Egypt, and later foil the plan to exile four Egyptian nationalist leaders, including her husband.

Hoda Shaarawi (left) and Safia Zaghloul (right).

Four years later, in 1923, Huda Shaarawi along with Saiza Nabarawi, and upon their return from the conference of the International Alliance of Women in Rome, they made a public statement for the waiting press when they removed their veil in a symbolic act of liberation. Women in other Arab countries followed suit.

In the past, the veil was worn only by upper class women, as a status symbol. Under Western influences it was discarded in many Arab countries in the beginning of the twentieth century. But it reappeared in a different form in the late 1960's, as an "Islamic dress", worn by many women including professional and working class.

In 1921 Amelia Sakakini and Zalikha Al-Sharabi formed the first Palestinian Women's Federation and organized demonstrations against the British imposition of the mandate over Palestine. Women are still active in the current resistance movement.

Jamila Buhrayed (or Bouhired) was a powerful symbol of courage to millions in the Arab World. As a member of the underground movement for Algeria's liberation from the French occupation, she was imprisoned and tortured. Also the important female figure of the Algerian resistance against the French colonialism was Lalla Fatma N'Soumer.

Lalla Fatma N'Soumer

Howar Tacco was killed in an anti-colonial demonstration.


-In the past, and due to economic and political reasons, particularly during Western colonialism in the Middle East, women's education lagged behind men's.

-Later, and in the nineteenth century, modern schools for girls were established first in Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. Saudi Arabia established their first schools for girls in 1960.

By 1985 there were 20 million females enrolled in all types and levels of education in the Arab countries.

-Arab girls are more likely to enroll in all-girls junior and high schools

-Arab girls are more likely to study math and science than their Western counterpart sisters. They compete for top places in medical and engineering faculties.

-Most universities are co-educational except in Saudi Arabia.-Education is free for all, from primary to graduate schools.

-In spite of the availability of free education, poorer families do not send their girls to school. They send them to work in order to support the family or assist their mothers with housework.


-Teaching is the most widely available occupation for Arab women. They hold positions as teachers, principals, curriculum supervisors, college deans, department chairpersons and other administrative positions.




-Many Arabic countries pride themselves on having numerous women in as university professors in almost every field, such as engineering, medicine, pharmacy, law, statistics, psychology, French, English, and Arabic.

-Women in the Arab World have also excelled as poets, writers, journalists, singers and actors. In addition, they have entered the world of sculpture and painting, and participated in international exhibits around the world.

Fatin Hamama, Egyptian actress.



Arab girls, especially from affluent families, participate in different sports such as volleyball, basketball, swimming, horse-back riding, tennis and gymnastics.

Many Arab girls have excelled in the international level, such as:
-Abla Khairy (Egypt), who swam the English Channel at age 13 in 1974.
-Jihan Metwalli (Egypt), also swam the English Channel in 1974.
-Nawal El-Moutawakel (Morocco), won the gold medal in the Women's 400 meters hurdle, in the 1984 Olympics.


-Women won voting rights in several Arab countries since the 1940s.

-Wives of several current and former Arab rulers have considerable influence in their countries advancement, such as Late Queen Alia (Jordan), and present Queen Noor (Jordan) enhancing the medical facilities. Anissa Boumedienne (Algeria) created the Women's Union and was active in the war of independence. Jihan Sadat (Egypt) reformed the family laws, and created vocational training centers for village women. Susan Mubarak (Egypt) won a prize from UNICEF for her work on behalf of children.

-In addition, Arab women have been appointed as cabinet ministers, ambassadors, and representatives in the U.N.