1. Malala Yousafzai, 17
2014 was the year of Malala. The human rights activist, who advocates on behalf of women’s and children’s rights, universal education, and peace, was more visible on a global scale than ever before this year. In accepting the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, as the award’s youngest recipient, she gave a brilliant lecture. Late last year, she published her first book, I Am Malala, which would go on to become a best-seller. Her presence on the international field started in 2009, thanks to an anonymous blog she wrote for the BBC about living under the Taliban. Malala is a force to be reckoned with, and, last year, confronted President Barack Obama about his drone war in Pakistan. A controversial figure in her home country, Malala has expressed her desire to one day become Prime Minister of Pakistan.
2. Sanaa Seif, 20
The younger sister of famous Egyptian activists Mona Seif and Alaa Abd El Fattah, Sanaa Seif was arrested earlier this year as part of Etthehadiya 24, a group of activists who demonstrated against Egypt’s anti-protest law. For her political activities, Seif was sentenced to three years in prison. Along with her family members, she has gone on hunger strike to protest the ruling and bring attention to the silencing of dissent in Egypt. In addition to her political activities, Sanaa was an editor on the Oscar-nominated documentary “The Square,” which told the story of the Egyptian revolution up until the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, 2013.
3. Loujain al-Hathloul, 25
A still from a video of Loujain al-Hathloul driving, via presstv.ir This brave activist from Saudi Arabia was arrested on December 1, 2014 for disobeying a Saudi law forbidding women from driving. While she had previously posted videos of herself flouting the prohibition, this time she deliberately drove into Saudi Arabia from the UAE, and was detained at the border. She live-tweeted the first 24 hours of her detention and has remained in jail under an executive order extending her confinement. Loujain’s activism is part of a quiet online revolt by female drivers in Saudi Arabia, who are tweeting videos of themselves driving and being arrested. Upon hearing of Loujain’s arrest, many Saudi women spoke out over social media, and took to the streets to drive in protest. Loujain’s long detainment is unprecedented, but the reaction to her situation suggests that civil disobedience will continue despite the government’s disciplinary measures.
4. Maryam al-Khawaja, 27
Maryam al-Khawaja has been an advocate for human rights in Bahrain since she was a teenager. Maryam was born in Syria to then-exiled Bahraini activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, founder of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights in Bahrain. Her father is currently serving a life sentence in Bahrain for his activism. Maryam Al-Khawaja rose to prominence in 2011 after live-tweeting the Bahraini uprising. This year, she was arrested upon re-entering the country, and charged with insulting the king, as well as participating in Wanted For Justice, a human rights campaign that called for an end for the unjust arrests and sentencing of human rights defenders in Bahrain. Maryam was also charged with assaulting a police officer after she refused to give up her phone, an allegation she has described as “fabricated.” After international outcry led to her release, Maryam resumed her work on behalf of Bahrain’s revolution, saying in an interview with Al-Jazeera “Bahrain is what we like to call an inconvenient revolution. It is not convenient to the Arabs, it is not convenient to the West.”
5. Kholoud Saber Barakat, 29
Egyptian activist, psychology PhD candidate, and deputy director of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression in Egypt, Khouloud Saber Barakat has been fighting sexual violence in her country since the onset of the 2011 revolution. In 2013, she used her psychology training to provide free rehabilitation and support to the numerous victims of mob and gang sexual violence, which have taken place during various mass demonstrations in Egypt. She recently appeared on NPR to discuss the difficulties with aiding sexual assault victims under the country’s restrictive government. This year, she was the recipient of the prestigious Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty for her work. Kholoud and others like her are dedicated to ensuring that sexual violence does not derail the achievements of Egypt’s female activists.