NAYA| The women who shaped Lebanon

Through her articles, she encouraged Arab women to take on more active political roles and was the first Lebanese woman to publicly discard the veil.
by Maysaa Ajjan and Hala Mezher

12 March 2019 | 10:31

Source: by Annahar

Anbara Salam Khalidi. (Vintage Beirut).

The women’s liberation movements in Lebanon date back to the 1920s, when the Women’s Union was established in Lebanon and Syria. The union focused on cultural and social issues, was registered with the French system in 1927, and held conferences in Beirut in 1927, 1928, and 1930. 

After Lebanon gained its independence in 1943, four feminism scenes emerged. All those differed in their demands, political discourses, and temporality.

While the core values that united advocates of women’s rights were almost the same, each advocate had a voice of her own that distinguished her from the rest.

Whether it was using politics to their advantage or protesting through the pen, these women were certainly the unsung heroes of Lebanese history.

After digging into the history and evolvement of women’s rights in Lebanon, NAYA came up with a list of heroes that she believes did not get the credit they deserved.

May Ziade (1886– 1941) 

May Ziade was a Lebanese-Palestinian poet, essayist and translator.

Known as a prolific writer, she wrote for Arabic newspapers and periodicals and she wrote a number of poems and books. She was a key figure in the early 20th-century Arab literary scene and is known for being a pioneer of oriental feminism. Her personal life, however, was marred by tragedy.

After suffering a series of personal losses, beginning with the death of her parents and a number of her friends, Ziadeh was placed in a psychiatric hospital by her relatives to gain control over her estate.

Ziade was profoundly humiliated and incensed by this incident; she eventually recovered and left after a medical report proved that she was of sound mental health. She returned to Cairo where she died on October 17, 1941.

Rose Al Yusuf (1897 - 1958)

The Lebanese-born Rose Al Yusuf played an instrumental role in shaping Egyptian theater. She acted with prominent groups and directors such as Iskandar Farah and Mohammad Abdul Kodoos.

She later left theater and founded “Rose Al Yusuf,” the first art magazine to be published by a woman in Egypt, if not in the whole region. The magazine ran for 10 years but was severely opposed and boycotted by political opposition, which led to its eventual bankruptcy. Nevertheless, it marked Al Yusuf’s name in the Arab literary world.

Emily Nasrallah (1931 – 2018)

Novelist, journalist, freelance writer, teacher, lecturer, and women's rights activist are only some of the titles bestowed on the award-winning writer Emily Nasrallah.

She started her journalistic and writing career while she was still in college. Her first novel “Birds of September” was published in 1962. This novel was followed by six novels, eight children's books, thirteen short story collections, and eleven non-fiction books that explore themes such as family roots, Lebanese village life, the war in Lebanon, and the struggle of women for independence and self-expression.

She is one of many Lebanese women authors who stayed in Beirut, wrote about the conflict, and shared their experiences of the war.

Nazirah Jumblatt (1890–1951)

Nazira Jumblatt was one of the earliest Druze leaders and the mother of Lebanese politician Kamal Jumblatt.

Upon the assassination of her husband Fouad Jumblatt in 1921, Nazira took on the political role and leadership of the Jumblatt family, becoming the first Druze woman to do so in an era that completely prohibited women from taking an active role in politics. She learned the English and French languages during her rule of three decades under the French mandate.

Anbara Salam Khalidi (1897 - 1986) 

Khalidi was born into a prominent political family under Ottoman rule and was able to acquire an education. She later on became a writer and translator. As a teenager, Khalidi participated in establishing an Arabic Women’s society, which was aimed at financing girls’ education and became one of the founders of the Society of Women’s Renaissance.

Through her articles, she encouraged Arab women to take on more active political roles and was the first Lebanese woman to publicly discard the veil. She published her story “Memoirs of an Early Arab Feminist: The Life and Activism of Anbara Salam Khalidi” in 1978, which was translated in 2013.

“What sin have I, the Arab girl, committed in God's sight, to deserve as punishment a life filled with repression and denial?'' Expressed Khalidi to Prince Faisal in a conversation. Khalidi is believed to have been instrumental to the women’s liberation movement in Lebanon.

Anissa Rawda Najjar (1913 - 2016)

Najjar made it her life’s mission to improve the status of women in rural areas. To that end, she advocated for accessible healthcare and education for people living in remote areas and co-founded the first ‘Village Welfare Society’ in 1953 in order to empower women economically and promote literacy.

Najjar represented Lebanese women in several international conferences and became Editor-in-Chief of the magazine “Al-Urwa Al Wuthqa.” She also acted as secretary of both the Lebanese Council for Women and the Druze Orphanage. She was awarded on several occasions for her unmatched contributions.

Nazik Al-Abid (1898 - 1959)

Known for being a vocal opponent of Ottoman and French Control, Abid was given the title “Joan of Arc of the Arabs.” Abid grew up in a wealthy Damascus family, but was exiled from the country four times for her controversial views. Abid was outspoken about her aspirations for secularism and women’s liberation.

She is the founder of the Red Star Society and had a prominent role in the famous Battle of Maysalun, for which she was honoured by Prince Faisal. Abid also founded a magazine, a school for girls and the ‘The Working Women’s Society’.

She eventually fled to Lebanon in 1921 after a clash with the French authorities, where she met and married Muhammad Jamil Bayhum and continued to relentlessly fight all forms of injustice.

Laure Moghaizel (1929 - 1997)

The legal authority and advocate of human rights was known for her unprecedented work in pursuit of gender equality. Moghaizel was motivated by the belief that women’s rights were an irreducible part of human rights.

Moghaizel launched several campaigns that aimed to educate Lebanese citizens on their rights and the laws and participated in organizing peaceful demonstrations to protest the excessive violence of war. She co-founded the Non-Violence Movement, the Human Rights Association, and the Lebanese Democratic Party in 1970.

In 1996, Moghaizel became the first Arab woman in the United Nations Committee for Human Rights and led the effort of pushing the Lebanese Government to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).


Welcome to “Naya”, the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment.

We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. Naya is devoted to women of all generations-Naya Editor, Sally Farhat:

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