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Celebrating women of the Middle East on International Women's Day

From sporting champs to computer coders, MEE looks at some of the inspiring women we've featured over the last year
Women code hackers in Lebanon - breaking ground in an area traditionally dominated by men (MEE)
From martial artists to bikers, activists, chefs and authors, on International Women's Day, Middle East Eye looks back at just some of the stories highlighting the lives and achievements of women in the region over the last 12 months: 
Speaking to women on the ground and hearing directly from them about the issues which drive and inspire them has given MEE a platform to showcase the rich and diverse lives led by women in sports, music, the arts and beyond.

Women in sports

1) SheFighter: Jordan's first self-defence academy for women

Despite resistance from some men, now in its fourth year, SheFighter has helped train around 12,000 women in martial arts, self-defence and fitness. The organisation has gained international recognition. 

Last May, after participating in an entrepreneurship competition, Lina was invited to the White House as one of three young entrepreneurs furthering business and development in the Middle East. President Barack Obama highlighted her work and the SheFighter project in a speech. "I felt really happy, I couldn't even sleep at night," Khalifeh said of the experience. 

Having earned a blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do, she also became an expert in kickboxing, kung fu and boxing, going on to represent Jordan in international competitions and championships. Her focus is now expanding her classes and empowering more women to follow in her footsteps.

Maha Asad met Dalia al-Amry to hear how, despite the odds, Dalia transformed her life and her career and is now fighting to change gender stereotypes in Egypt. Just two years ago she was a secretary in a large organisation. Feeling restless and stifled she eventually quit her job - after many heated debates with family and friends - and became a full-time trainer at a Cairo gym.
Then, just a year and a half after first joining the gym all her perseverance paid off, and she was named Egypt’s female kickboxing and crossfitting champion. She now tries to encourage women, especially those living in rural areas without access to sports facilities, to get fit and challenge stereotypes. 

Women bikers

A Yemeni, an Iranian and a British woman explain the pull of the open road on the back of Harley Davidsons as part of a new group of convention-defying bikers. Some have dreamed of being bikers since childhood, never thinking it could actually happen because of all of the traditions and customs discouraging women from this sort of activity. Others fell in love with biking later in life, and found it to be an outlet to cope with depression, divorce and war.
They're seeing more and more like-minded women joining biker groups like theirs and are encouraged to see the lure of the open road beginning to be accessible to women too. 
Women and technology

4) Women in Lebanon show computer coding is not just for the boys

Stephanie d'Arc Taylor took us inside the first all-women hackathon in Lebanon. While "hackathons" are nothing new in the Middle East, this particular one, held at the American University of Beirut, had a special distinction among all the others, in that all the developers there were all women. It was the first ever all-women hackathon in Lebanon. 
This one-of-a-kind event saw female coders coming together to develop their programming skills. At the end of the successful event one organiser praised it, saying, "We need more hackathons. Companies are hesitant to hire women... everyone was impressed by what we did. If companies see more of that, if they see what we’re capable of, they’ll be more willing to hire women.” This would be an important step in addressing the imbalance of women to men in the IT sector.

Women in the music industry

5) Being a Saudi pop wannabe in LA ain't easy

Rotana Tarabzouni traded Saudi Arabia for Los Angeles to pursue her musical dreams. She told MEE how challenging that journey has been. 

“I want to be the first Saudi female singer to break into the music industry. I won’t settle for anything less than a global platform because the issues that I speak of, I need the world to hear them.”

“I’m not just doing this for Saudi Arabia. I want the West to have a more accurate picture of what it means to be a Saudi or Arab woman. To build a bridge of understanding that the media does not facilitate."

Alex Shams charts the amazing success of the sisters whose music video Habib Galbi - performed by a band of three Israeli sisters of Yemeni background named A-WA - managed to rise to the top of this country’s music charts, shattering records and all expectations. The video has amassed over 1.2 million hits and has attracted thousands of fans from across the Middle East. The song is actually based on a tune that the group’s grandmother - who was born in Ibb, Yemen, but moved to Israel in 1949 - taught them. 
Uniquely, the summer hit marked the first time in Israel that an Arabic-language song managed to top the charts, and its positive reception across borders in countries Israel has been at war with for nearly 70 years had many experts wondering if the song was a sign of a cultural thaw and hope amid the increasingly bleak political landscape across the region.

Women preserving their cultural heritage

After her experience opening a restaurant in Chelsea, and seeing the new wave of Israeli cuisine popping up around London, Kalla became fuelled by a mission to preserve and promote Palestinian food - an important niche which seems to have been forgotten, or some say replaced, in the new Middle Eastern culinary explosion in the West.
“Palestinian food is often referred to as generic Middle Eastern cuisine, or even passed off as Israeli,” Kalla told Middle East Eye, shaking her head. “I saw maqlouba advertised as the ‘National Dish of the Day’ in an Israeli coffee shop in London last week – my great-great-grandmother cooked this in a land of Palestinians and Jews and Christians, way before the creation of what we now know as Israel.”
That's what inspired the British-Palestinian chef, who was born in Syria, to put together her cookbook and app of the same name Palestine on a Plate - an attempt to preserve the heritiage of Palestinian cuisine. 

Women supporting their families

8) In Morocco, it’s the women who carry the Atlas

As men try to find work in the big cities of Morocco, women are traditionally destined to do the hard work. In this photo story we glimpse the lives of the women who are doing the heavy lifting to keep their families going when the men have left their rural communities in droves. 

It's the Amazigh women of this Atlas region who work the fields, herd the cattle, do the laundry by the river and gather wood for the fire. Even before that all starts they will inevitably have already worked for half a day doing household chores and taking care of the children.

At the end of the day they gather the wood or crops into bundles which they hoist onto their shoulders and carry back up to the village. Then they start preparing dinner and beginning their chores for the evening. 

An activist with the the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH) told MEE that more should be done by the government to try to make life easier for the thousands of women in these rural communities including paving the roads and providing basic needs in terms of health casre and schooling.

MEE mets three tradition-defying women in Cairo thrust by need and circumstance into the world of work.
Tuk-tuk driving may not be a traditional role for women in Egypt, but for 38-year-old Sabeh Ahmed from Shubra in northern Cairo, a widow with four children and a 90-year-old mother to care for, driving a tuk-tuk seems like the only way to make a living. It has not been easy but she takes each challenge in her stride. Once, when a driver named Mohsen blocked her from getting to a customer with his tuk-tuk, she rammed him out of the way with her vehicle.
“I had to spend a month’s wages to repair my tuk-tuk but it was worth it just for the look on his face,” she laughed.

Writers and activists

Activist and author Dr Ghada Karmi sits down with Angeles Rodenas for a candid interview about why, after a lifetime of activism, the Palestinian writer is handing over the torch to the new generation and writing a novel set in medieval Baghdad.
From her Palestinian roots to her upbringing and life in Golders Green she looks back at her time working with the Palestinian Authority, her views on the life and legacy of Yasser Arafat and why she thinks the next generation of Palestinian actiivsts need to focus on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement if they are to help end the occupation of their homeland. 

Kurdish women fighters in the mountains of northern Iraq (MEE)

And so many others...

And that was not all. MEE also covered the story of The Zoroastrian priestesses of Iran, met with the female guerilla fighters of the PKK and highlighted the stories of many other women trailblazers. Including one from Algeria: Feminists rally against domestic violence
Women all over the Middle East are fighting to break down stereotypes and are challenging what it means to be a woman from the Middle East. Some of the stories we have covered have been inspiring and uplifting while others have not been happy. We've covered cases of young people who have been subjected to enforced disappearance, like Where is Esraa? Egypt's authorities step up forced disappearances - which traced the story of a young Egyptian photographer who went missing without a trace.
One thing is clear, whether the story is one of triumph and success or one of loss and betrayal, women are taking their narratives into their own hands and are more and more telling their stories in their own words, offering us insight into their worlds as they want it shown. 

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