The Arab world has no shortage of successful women to look up and although Tunisia is small in size, it’s large in heart. Boasting an impressive list of critically acclaimed actors, Olympic-winning athletes, and world-renowned musicians, Tunisian women are proudly pushing the boundaries of what it means to be an Arab woman in this day and age. Defying archaic stereotypes, breaking glass ceilings, and paving the path to parity are all in a day’s work for these inspiring women who are busy building a new and inclusive world for future generations one milestone at a time. Read on to meet the seven Tunisians we look to for our morning motivation.
Dora Bouchoucha Fourati
One of the first female film producers in not only Tunisia and the region but also the world during the early 90s, Fourati is living proof that success follows those who deserve it—irrespective of gender. Armed with a passion to share untold stories of her native country and the wider Arab world on an international level, Fourati handpicks scripts that resonate with her and highlight often unexplored Arab identities. Despite working in a heavily male-dominated industry, this award-winning filmmaker has produced numerous features, documentaries, and shorts under her own production company, Nomadis Images, that have been selected to premiere at the highly renowned Cannes, Venice, and Berlin Film Festivals over the years—all while raising a family. One of her daughters, model and Vogue Arabia cover star Kenza Fourati, previously shared with us some of the most important lessons she learned from her mother that we all could do well in remembering. “We learned early on that we had to work very hard and that nothing was owed to us but, most importantly, we learned the importance of keeping our integrity intact…She has shown us empathy and how to always understand different perspectives. She brought this empathy to each of her films, her documentary, and her activism. It set her apart.”
A woman who likely needs no introduction, this Cairo-based Tunisian actor is one of the most celebrated stars in the Middle East. Although she has a career spanning more than two decades and a list of roles more iconic than the last in her repertoire, Sabri shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Yet this Vogue Arabia cover star has her sights are set on far more than just racking up accolades—though she has many. A longtime champion for female empowerment in the region both on-screen and off, Sabri portrays characters that reveal the often-overlooked complexities of Arab women while also fighting for everlasting change in society, from speaking up for sexual harassment survivors to fighting for gender parity in the film industry. “Many actors around the world are talking about the same thing and when you love an industry, you want to see it expand and develop. Gender equality and equal pay would make the industry better so I don’t see courage in addressing that, I just see responsibility over an industry I like and the job that I chose.” Proving that she can’t be caged within the outdated stereotypes and gender norms that often plague our society, Sabri is a force with which to be reckoned.
While female Arab athletes are consistently making headlines for their record-breaking achievements, Ganoiati made history when she became the first Arab and African woman to referee a men’s first division football match in the Tunisian League last year. The international football referee is no stranger to having all eyes upon her, officiating a series of important women’s and second division men’s matches previously. But this unexpected milestone she was surprised to accomplish so early on was a welcome challenge she afterward deemed a success for not only her but also all women, explaining “I hope some will understand that women can do the job, even better than men sometimes.”
Sustainability is quickly rising up the ranks of most popular buzzwords used in the fashion industry, but green living is nothing new for this Tunisian entrepreneur. Marrying the worlds of technology and design to promote a more sustainable future, Kourda co-founded Save Your Wardrobe, an app that stores a digital version of an individual’s closet and creates an entire virtual ecosystem around it using artificial intelligence to promote longer shelf-lives of each item. Carefully categorizing and offering personalized services from dry-cleaning reminders to styling suggestions, Kourda is on a mission to curb the fast fashion crisis, decrease excessive consumption, and help us all fall in love with our own clothes once again. As a female visionary in a traditionally male-driven tech industry, Kourda was met with a number of gender-based challenges at the outset. But, a supportive network pushed her to become one of the most successful disruptors in fashion and inspire a more inclusive future. “It is very exciting to be a female entrepreneur now. There is a powerful and ambitious community of women who empower and support each other. I am very proud to be part of the movement and help path the way for younger women to build a more inclusive industry.”
The modeling world is full of up-and-coming Arab beauties making their mark on today’s leading runways, but not too long ago Middle Eastern models were the exception not the norm. Jnifen is one of the few high-profile runway stars from the previous generation of regional models who promoted diversity in international fashion and beauty campaigns. Her trademark curls were quickly seen representing Armani, Fendi, and L’Oreal Paris before mentoring alongside Elie Saab on Project Runway Middle East. The former Vogue Arabia cover star can also be found advocating for human rights as a Goodwill Ambassador for the Middle East and supporting underprivileged communities as an ambassadress for non-profit group Action Innocence. As a role model for many aspiring models, Jnifen has one important piece of advice for women to channel every day: “Young women should have self-respect and a strong personality above all.”
There aren’t many titles in the world that hold as much prestige as “Olympian” and Boubakri isn’t one to take this recognition lightly. The young Arab athlete became the first Tunisian and African woman to win an Olympic medal in fencing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio when she emerged victorious with a bronze placement at the women’s individual foil match. As a bronze medalist at two World Championships—one preceding and one succeeding Rio—Boubakri was set to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics with the hopes of returning home to Tunisia with that coveted gold medallion around her neck. Although the Games were postponed due to the pandemic, Boubakri is confident she will bring honor to her country once again when the time comes and hopes her dream-come-true experience will continue to motivate other Arab women to strive for the stars. “From the podium in Rio, I dedicated my medals to all Arab women. And I hope my success can inspire others to surround themselves with positive people who push you to reach your goals and go for it.”
Known as the “Voice of the Tunisian Revolution”, this Tunisian singer-songwriter is renowned for her heartfelt melodies pleading for freedom and justice for her homeland. As the creator of one of the Arab world’s most inspiring power anthems, Kelmti Horra, and a performer at a Nobel Peace Prize Concert, Mathlouthi is a maestro of using music to usher in feelings of harmony and actions of progress. Now, the avant-garde artist is spreading her poignant message of world unity with a new album paying tribute to the infinite potential of humanity as she continues to give a voice to the voiceless. Although Mathlouthi is often pigeonholed into the unfitting category of World Music, the Arab songstress is on a mission to rise above the old-fashioned prejudices ingrained within the music industry to spread the vibrant beats of the region to the West—on her own terms. “My Tunisian identity has also allowed me to see some of the strangeness and injustice in the music world. But I will keep fighting for all of us, and be at peace with my ‘Tunisianity’— whatever that means—in my voice, my lyrics, my melodies, or my soul.”