The Arab revolution has seen an extraordinary number of women come to the forefront. From sit-in protests to spearheading campaigns, their role in the uprising is of paramount importance. For this year’s International Women’s Day, this is my list of five women from the Middle East, who have helped make a difference. I’m pretty sure there are many more doing every bit they can, hidden from the limelight. 

Photo by See Wah

Zainab al – Khawaja – Bahrain

Zainab al- Khawaja is a blogger from the Kingdom of Bahrain who was active during the uprisings in the island state. During the protests, she was arrested, and pictures of her being dragged around the ground spread on the Internet. Zainab was imprisoned along with her father Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, her husband Wafi Al-Majed, and two other relatives. She has sworn to continue protesting until her nation becomes a democracy.

Dr Najwa Fituri – Libya

During the revolution in Libya, Dr Najwa Fituri helped smuggle drugs to treat Libyans injured in their uprising against Col. Gaddafi. A paediatric consultant at the al-Jalaa maternity hospital – responsible for the treatment of premature babies – she now nurtures ambitions for a new generation of Libyan women. As an active member of the Women for Libya group, she now spearheads the campaign for allowing 40% women representation in the parliamentary committee that will write Libya’s constitution next year.

Razan Zaitouneh – Syria

Razan Zaitouneh is a 34-year-old human rights lawyer from Syria who has gone into hiding after being accused by the government of being a foreign agent – for her reporting on the Internet and giving  foreign media daily accounts of the atrocities against civilians in Syria. It is reported that when they failed to find her, they arrested her husband, Wa’il Al-Hamada, who was held incommunicado in an unknown location for almost three months and reportedly tortured. Still in hiding, Razan won the prestigious Anna Politkovskaya award last year.

Tawakkul Karman – Yemen

Tawakul Karman, a Yemeni journalist and activist, is one of three women awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. She became the first Arab woman to win the prize. Known as the ‘Mother of Revolution’ in Yemen, she camped out with protestors in the capital city of Sanaa. Despite arrests and death threats, she has been a prominent activist and advocate of human rights and freedom of expression for the last five years, and led regular protests and sit-ins calling for the release of political prisoners.

Sihem Bensedrine – Tunisia

Sihem Bensedrine is a Tunisian journalist and human rights activist. In 2011 she was awarded the Alison Des Forges Award by Human Rights Watch in recognition of her 20-year work to expose human rights violations under former Tunisian President Ben Ali. Despite multiple beatings and a two-month imprisonment, Sihem continued to write about the uprisings, passing it on to the international media.