We’re giving them a standing ovation at our desks.

The last 12 months have offered a mixed bag of events, with political instability and heartbreaking atrocities occurring around the world. However 2017 also gave us much to celebrate, particularly in the Middle East.

From the lifting of the driving ban on women in Saudi Arabia to an extension on public sector maternity leave here in the UAE, the last year has been brimming with landmark moves in the realm of female empowerment.

So, to celebrate as 2017 draws to a close, we’re paying tribute to some of the women from the region who’ve been making headlines with their world firsts, humanitarian initiatives and inspirational leadership.

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Rayouf Alhumedhi

Rayouf Alhumedhi 

It feels like something that should have been on keyboards years ago, but this is who we have to thank for this year’s launch of the official hijabi emoji.

Alhumedhi, a 16-year-old Saudi schoolgirl who now lives in Vienna, pitched the idea for a headscarf-wearing icon to the Unicode Consortium – the company in charge of introducing the cartoonish images to the market – in 2016.

“The addition of the hijab emoji will prove to be a step forward in tolerance and diversity,” Alhumedhi wrote at the time.

The image of a woman wearing a purple hijab joined other new emojis, including a breastfeeding mum, a pretzel and dinosaurs, on Apple’s iOS 11.1 update earlier this year.

Amal Clooney

amal clooney

The British-Lebanese lawyer has, quite frankly, been crushing it for years, but 2017 was no exception. Not only did the human rights activist welcome twins back in June, but Clooney returned to work after a three-month maternity break to fight for refugees’ rights.

Beirut-born Clooney attended a United Nations Security Council in September, where the council voted unanimously to launch a team dedicated to helping Iraq build war crime cases against Daesh.

Clooney attended the meeting with her client Nadia Murad, a human rights activist, Nobel Peace Prize nominee and UN Goodwill Ambassador who was previously kidnapped and held by Daesh for three years. The pair have been working together to bring justice to Yazidi refugees, and Clooney celebrated the UN’s landmark decision following the security meeting.

“For the time the UN is saying to ISIS terrorists that if they commit genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, they will be held to account in a court of law,” the lawyer told the BBC, adding: “It’s also saying to the victims that their voices will be heard.”

Clooney also made headlines with husband George this year after pledging Dhs9.18 million towards helping educate Syrian refugees in Lebanon and donating a further Dhs3.67 million towards fighting hate groups in the United States.

Amna Al Qubaisi

Amna Al Qubaisi 

She’s only 17, but this Emirati schoolgirl just can’t stop racing into the record books.

Motorsport talent Amna Al Qubaisi is set to become the first Arab woman to compete in Formula 4 when she takes to the track in Europe next season.

The graduate of Abu Dhabi’s Daman Speed Academy will be pitted against some of the world’s best rising drivers when she joins the Prema team for her F4 debut.

The teen also became the first Emirati woman to win the UAE’s senior Rotax Max Challenge karting series earlier this year, but has her eyes set on racing in Formula 1 in the future.

“It feels really amazing to be the first female driver of the UAE to be racing in Formula Four,” Al Qubaisi told sport360.

“I feel very confident that I can do well there and this is the first step to Formula One. I hope that I can make good progress and hopefully soon I can make it in Formula One.”

Huda Kattan

huda kattan

The entrepreneur and beauty blogger is already a household name thanks to her 23.6 million-follower-strong Instagram account and makeup line Huda Beauty.

And the Dubai-based mogul looks set to see her star soar even further, after scoring a minority investment from a private equity firm earlier this year.

The deal with TSG Consumer Partners (which has also backed Smashbox and It Cosmetics) will help Kattan expand her product lines as well as her retail presence, according to Women’s Wear Daily.

“There’s so much more we want to do right now,” the super-savvy businesswoman told the publication. “We have so much more to do for Huda Beauty — we’re not in a lot of places, we’ve only hit 40 Sephora doors in the US and our productivity is really high.

“We want to go into more Sephora doors — that’s really important. We’re not going to be in every single store, that’s never our goal, but we want to be in more places and more accessible.”

Alia Al Mansouri

Alia Al Mansouri

She’s just 15, but this Dubai schoolgirl already looks set to skyrocket the UAE into new realms.

Al Mansouri hopes to become the Emirates’ first astronaut, and among the first to land on Mars one day, and we definitely fancy her chances.

The teen won the Genes in Space competition this year with a proposal to study how exposure to space affects the health of live organisms at a cellular level.

Her experiment was blasted into space in August, and Al Mansouri got to visit NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for the occasion.

“I want to be an astronaut when I grow up, so it’s amazing that I get to see actual astronauts doing my experiment in space,” Al Mansouri told NASA’s Amanda Griffin in an interview.

We have a feeling she’ll be back there again in the near future…

Shadia Bseiso

Shadia Bseiso

When it comes to smashing 2017, this wrestler most definitely made the cut.

Brazilian jiu jitsu-trained Shadia Bseiso made history this year after becoming the first Middle Eastern woman signed to professional wrestling organisation WWE.

The Jordanian sportswoman was selected from 40 athletes at an invitation-only tryout in April in Dubai, beating out power lifters, rugby players and martial arts experts.

“It is an honour to be the first-ever woman from the Middle East to sign with WWE,” Bseiso said. “Working with WWE is an incredible opportunity… I look forward to starting on my path to becoming a WWE Superstar.”

Bseiso will attend a Florida training camp from January, so we hope to see her in the ring at some point in 2018.

HRH Princess Haya bint Al Hussein

hrh princess haya

It’s no secret that we’re huge fans of the royal here at Emirates Woman, whether we’re talking about her humanitarian endeavours, parenting views, or style—but the Jordan-born princess has had a particularly inspirational year.

In 2017 alone, Her Majesty has (along with HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum) helped organise a staggering 13 deliveries of emergency aid to Rohingya Muslims in Bangladeshi refugee camps, donated US$39.5 million (Dhs145m) to fight hunger and poverty in Jordan, and touchingly visited many sick children around Dubai.

Princess Haya also made a rare TV appearance in Australia, where she called for a political solution to solve “chaos” in the Middle East, along with delivering a stirring speech on why we must support the hungry at 2017’s World Government Summit.

We’ll keep you updated with the worthy causes she continues to highlight throughout 2018.

Lana Zaki Nusseibeh

Lana Nusseibeh

In 2013, Lana Zaki Nusseibeh was the first woman to be appointed Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates to the United Nations.

Four years later, the ambassador added another achievement to her resume, after being elected to the presidency of the UN-Women Executive Board for 2017.

The organisation is described as a “strong champion for women and girls, providing them with a powerful voice at the global, regional and local levels”.

As part of her post, Nusseibeh has been working towards helping UN Women achieve its goal of gender equality by 2030. Just this month, she called for more women to be included in conflict resolution around the world, revealing that when women participate in discussions there is a 35 per cent chance that peace will last more than 15 years.

We’re confident Nusseibeh will continue to be a shining beacon for women’s empowerment over the coming years.

Sarah Al Suhaimi

saudi stock exchange

This businesswoman made headlines this year when she became the first female to head up Saudi Arabia’s stock exchange in its history.

Sarah Al Suhaimi, previously NCB Capital Co’s chief executive officer, was hired to fill the high-powered role previously only held by men back in February.

The Harvard-educated CEO will now head up the Tadawul, the largest bourse in the Middle East.

It’s not Al Suhaimi’s first record-breaking role either – she became the first female head of a Saudi investment bank when she joined NCB Capital Co in 2014.

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HH Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and HE Mona Al Marri

HH Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and HE Mona Al Marri

As the President and Vice-President of the UAE Gender Balance Council, these two Emirati leaders are a constant driving force in the UAE’s bid to become one of world’s top 25 countries for gender equality by 2021.

This year alone, the council has released a world-first manual designed to help both private and public sector workplaces embrace and enhance gender equality, and helped extend maternity leave for public sector workers.

“The winds of change are blowing, and believe me you don’t want to be left behind,” said Al Marri in an interview with The National this May.

The UAE council—which launched the Global Gender Circle earlier this year—is now working towards the implementation of gender responsive budgeting on a federal level, Al Marri revealed  last month.

We’re excited to see what plans it has in store for 2018…

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Images: Instagram, Getty, supplied, Dubai Media Office