October 11 marks the International Day of the Girl. The annual initiative was launched by the United Nations in 2012 to empower and champion young women across the globe. This year’s theme, “With Her: A Skilled Girl Force,” is focused on helping girls overcome adversity through education and skill-building. Today marks the beginning of a year-long effort to advocate female entrepreneurship and provide young women across the world with the tools they need to succeed in their own professional paths. In light of the empowering occasion, we round up five game-changing Arab females who have broken major ground well before they were even legally allowed to vote.
Rayouf Alhumedhi is the 16-year-old Saudi who gave us the hijab-wearing emoji after she sent a seven-page proposal to Unicode Consortium, the governing board and non-profit organization behind the creation of new emojis. The idea won the backing of Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, and a graphic artist went on to make the proposed design, which was finally accepted last year. The teenager would go on to make history at the 2018 World Cup when she, alongside five other young girls, was appointed as an official flag bearer selected to lead Saudi Arabia’s national team, the Green Falcons, to the tournament.
Amna Al Qubaisi
Emirati racecar driver Amna Al Qubaisi is known as the first Arab woman to compete in Formula 4. The 18-year-old driver was also the first Emirati woman to win the UAE’s senior Rotax Max Challenge karting series in 2017. Al Qubaisi started driving when she was 14, following in the footsteps of her father, Khaled Al Qubaisi. Her younger sister Hamda, 16, is also a racer – she’s a rising karting star in the UAE who has already achieved 13 podiums.
This year, Leena Althekair published a new book entitled Foreshadow: Trapped in Her Own Mind, making her the youngest Saudi Arabian female to write a novel at the age of 15. The book, written in English, joins that of Dana Al Balooshi, the 12-year-old Emirati who is set to publish a new book entitled 13 Amazing Women of Arabia, making her the UAE’s youngest author.
Mahra Al Hanaei
Jiu-jitsu champion Mahra Al Hanaei made the UAE proud at the 2018 Asian Games held in Indonesia’s capital of Jakarta. The 17-year-old took home a silver medal on the opening day of the competition, following a spar against Cambodian native Jessa Khan in the women’s 49-kilogram jiu-jitsu final. The mixed martial arts fighter had previously beat out Vietnam’s Thi Thanh Minh Duong by a whopping 14-0 in the semi-finals. Hanaei’s triumph would secure one of the UAE’s three silver medals in the competition. Hanaei hails from a family of award-winning fighters, and took up the combat-based sport over six years ago. She has won a number of regional and international tournaments, and is a member of the UAE national team.
Alia Al Mansoori
Alia Al Mansoori is a teenager who won a UAE competition seeking proposals for experiments to be tested on the International Space Station when she was only 15. The child prodigy, who was one of five finalists in the competition, got to to watch the launch of a rocket in Florida that carried her winning experiment into space, in addition to meeting HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. And in April, the aspiring astronaut, who has become a household name in the world of science, got to attend the 114th Explorers Club Annual Dinner in New York, which is the world’s largest event honoring leading explorers and scientists.