For Arab women, feminism dates back as far as the 19th century. Never ones to sit on the bench, some women from the region made sure to let their voice reach the edge of the world.
A number of vocal Arab female writers have shared their stories, fictional and non-fictional alike, in which their fight for equal gender relations is evident with every page.
Fighting the patriarchy in the Arab world is a minefield, but there are exceptionally fierce warriors who have tip-toed their way around the consequences. They turn a blind eye to the haters and put their inner wordsmith to use. Most importantly, these five writers do not mince their words, so make sure to bookmark their writings for a binge-reading session.
1. Badryah El-Bishr (1967-Present)
Badryah El-Bishr is an award-winning Saudi writer and novelist, with works mainly focused on the daily struggles of Saudi women and their decades-long fight for their rights.
El-Bishr published three novels including Hend and the Soldiers, The Seesaw, and Love Stories on al-Asha Street. Her writings, whether fiction or published articles, have stirred controversy multiple times in the past.
During a 2015 conference in Dubai, El-Bishr made it clear that she is unstoppable.
"Traditional societies have one mould, [and] it's alarming if you don't fit into it. It's appalling if you don't resemble your mother or father. In the face of such confrontation, people ask, 'How do you go on?' To be honest I don't see those who don't support me, I don't see their insults. I focus on those who support me," she said.
2. Miral al-Tahawy (1970-Present)
Egyptian novelist Miral al-Tahawy sheds light on various topics through her writings, one of which is the clash of her Bedouin traditions with her modern-day life.
Some of her books include The Tent, Blue Aubergine, The Strumming of the Gazelles, and award-winning Brooklyn Heights, which she wrote when she moved with her son to New York City. Writing a novel in the U.S. gave her "unexpected freedom" and allowed her to develop her work in a fear-free zone.
"Here, there is a world of fears," she said, referring to Egypt. "We write as our hands are self-censoring, even if it is not official censorship. This is the first time I write when I feel that my hand is not afraid," she said in an interview with the NY Times.
Growing up, al-Tahawy was bound by traditional family members who interfered with various aspects of her life. They had often advised her not to "travel to Cairo on her own, publish, give interviews, or have her photograph published in newspapers because it was considered improper and dishonorable."
3. Mona Eltahawy (1967-Present)
Egyptian feminist, journalist, author, and public speaker Mona Eltahawy's work has appeared in various international publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Washington Post to name a few.
Egyptian riot police beat Eltahawy in Nov. 2011, breaking her left arm and right hand. She was also sexually assaulted and detained for 12 hours by the Interior Ministry and Military Intelligence.
Eltahawy is as outspoken as one could be. In her book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, she offers a look at how patriarchy in the Middle East permeates every aspect of women's lives. The book highlights the importance of both social and sexual revolutions if advances in political revolutions are to be made. In 2010, she was ranked the 30th most powerful Arab Woman by Arabian Business.
4. Samar Yazbek (1970-Present)
Samar Yazbek is a Syrian writer, journalist, and activist whose first novel titled Cinnamon was published in 2007. The book sheds light on the lives, struggles, and experiences of women, especially in terms of assault, extramarital affairs, homosexuality, and underage sex.
Her 2011 book titled The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria ultimately led to her exile.
From her exile in Paris, she wrote A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution, recounting her time as a protester.
5. Nawal El Saadawi (1931-Present)
Nawal El Saadawi has been described as "Egypt's radical feminist" and "Egypt's most fiery feminist." As an advocate for women's rights, El Saadawi dedicated her career to the fight for women's political and social rights.
In 1972, El Saadawi published a book titled Women and Sex, in which she condemns female genital mutilation. The book sparked outrage at the time, so much that she lost her job at the Egyptian ministry of health.
Her strong political views against the patriarchy and religion led to her imprisonment for three months. During that time, she wrote Memoirs From The Women's Prison on toilet paper. She's been censored and banned in almost all Gulf countries including Bahrain, Doha, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.