From a Yemeni human rights activist who escaped two child marriage pacts to an Abu Dhabi women’s sport advocate and a Kuwaiti eco campaigner, the Arab Women of the Year 2022 event in London was packed with talented and inspiring females.
Royalty, politicians, diplomats, show business stars and leading figures from the Arab business community filled the ballroom at the five-star Carlton Tower Jumeirah in London’s Knightsbridge for the glittering event, which was hosted by the London Arabia Organisation, which celebrates the close ties between Britain and the Arab world, and The Bicester Collection.
In the first incarnation of the awards ceremony — which started in 2014 — since the start of the pandemic, the talents of women from across the Arab world were recognised.
The LAO also used the occasion to unveil its Unlock Her Future campaign which strives to ensure young girls can have access to basic education and healthcare and are protected from violence such as honour killings and child marriage.
“No one can deny that our culture gives woman great respect. Women are highly respected in the Arab world but at the same time, we often overlook their struggle, as well as their success,” Omar Bdour, chief executive of the LAO, told guests at the event.
“At the Arab Women of the Year Awards, we have always tried to give them a platform where their achievement is recognised.”
Star guests included Sophie, Countess of Wessex, as well as Egyptian actress Yasmine Sabri, Manar Dabbas, Jordan's Ambassador to the UK, Fahy Afana, the founder of the UAE-based Fast Building Contracting Company, and Lord Purvis of Tweed, a member of the House of Lords.
Guests dined on Scottish salmon and avocado tacos, followed by sea bass cooked with harra sauce and warm walnut brownies as they listened to the inspiring stories from across the Arab world.
At the event, the LAO unveiled its Unlock Her Future campaign which strives to ensure young girls have access to basic education and healthcare and are protected from violence in the form of honour killings and child marriage.
Egyptian star Sabri, the LAO ambassador for the campaign, said the initiative aims to empower Arab girls and help them gain the skills and confidence to achieve their full potential. She stressed that change is needed to ensure all females have access to basic rights and education and to prevent child marriage and violence against women.
“This is a year-long initiative aimed at providing a better future for every young girl and presenting her with opportunities for success,” Sabri told delegates at the event.
“Regardless of her background, we believe in addressing the harsh obstacles young Arab girls face in the world.”
The campaign's focus on child marriage was lauded by award winner Nada Al-Ahdal, a human-rights activist from Yemen, who escaped two child marriage pacts arranged by her parents for her.
Ms Al-Ahdal came to international attention in 2013 when she posted a video on YouTube telling the world her story of child marriage and exposing the practice in Yemen.
The young campaigner has since set up the Nada Foundation with the support of the Yemen’s prime minister. It has taught 400 girls English as well as offering educational scholarships and raising awareness of child marriage.
“I would like to dedicate this prize to His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman [of Saudi Arabia] for putting rules to prevent child marriage and prohibit the stealing of girls under the age of 18 and the president of Egypt for also protecting girls from being victims in child marriage,” Ms Al-Ahdal said, ripping up a piece of paper on stage with the words “Stop Child Marriage” on them, as she accepted the award for Achievement in Social Awareness.
“I hope this will pave the way for other countries to do the same.”
Other award winners included Abu Dhabi’s Sheikha Fatima bint Hazza, an ambassador of cultural development in the UAE and patron of art.
As chairwoman of the Fatima bint Hazza Cultural Foundation and the Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy, she empowers women to be successful in sport and in their communities — work that secured her the prize for Achievement in Culture.
Meanwhile, Jordanian journalist Caroline Faraj, the CNN vice president and editor in chief for Arabic Services, was awarded the Achievement in Media prize. Bahrain’s Shaikha Rana AlKhalifa secured the Achievement in Social Leadership award for her role as secretary general of the country’s Higher Education Council.
The Achievement in Business award went to Oman’s Areej Mohsin Darwish, the chairwoman of the Automotive, Construction Equipment and Renewable Energy cluster of Mohsin Haider Darwish LLC.
And 25-year-old Fatema Al Zelzela, the founder of the Eco Star Project in Kuwait, was given the Youth Achievement in Environmental Impact accolade for her efforts to boost recycling and sustainability in the Gulf state.
The Achievement in Community Service trophy went to Magi Gobran, known affectionately as 'Mama Maggie', for her dedication to helping needy children gain access to education and lead dignified lives through the Stephen’s Children’s Foundation, which she set up in Egypt in 1988.
Separately, Morocco’s Dr Leila Benali, a former Saudi Aramco energy policy leader and now the Minister of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development in the African nation, was awarded the Achievement in Sustainable Development Leadership, while Sheika Alanoud al-Thani, the chief executive of Qatar Financial Centre, received the Achievement in Financial Services accolade.