6 Arab American Women You Should Know About
Arab American women in politics have historically been a small, but mighty, group. The recent elections of Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib into the United States House of Representatives has shed a light on the extremely underrepresented community. While there is still much work to be done to increase representation, Arab American women have, and continue to make efforts in politics that bring incredible change. Here are six amazing women who have made waves that you should know about.
#1: School Board Member Abrar Omeish
Abrar Omeish holds the title for multiple firsts; she is the first Muslim woman to win a seat on the Fairfax County School Board, the youngest woman elected official in Virginia’s history, and the first Libyan-American woman elected to any office nationwide. At only 24, she holds a seat on the Fairfax County School Board, works with a nonprofit she started 10 years ago, and is a full-time student pursuing a Master’s Degree in public policy on a full scholarship at Georgetown University. In her role on the School Board, she is prioritizing improving students’ mental health, increasing parent liaisons who are hired by the school to build relationships with the school’s families, helping homeless students, and accommodating those with disabilities and their families. To Omeish, representation absolutely matters. When talking about her election she stated, “I’m hoping that this is a statement, or maybe making it palatable to the general public that these are members of the community who are entitled to be in positions of leadership. Being first changes your perception of what’s possible and who is truly part of this community.”
#2: Former U.S. Representative Pat Danner
Pat Danner, whose maternal grandparents emigrated from Lebanon, had a long, successful career in politics beginning from the 1970s through her retirement from Congress in 2001. She served on a variety of committees, including the Public Works and Transportation post, with seats on the Aviation and Ground Transportation Subcommittees, and an assignment to the Small Business Committee. After her first term, she stepped down from the Small Business Committee and gained a seat on the International Relations Committee, and the Subcommittee for International Economic Policy, for her last two terms. Danner was a staunch advocate for the constituents in her district and worked to receive federal emergency relief funding for infrastructure projects and agricultural efforts, including flood management. After being diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 1999, Danner decided to not run for reelection. But her dedication to helping others has never stopped. She cosponsored the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act of 2000, which passed and expanded coverage for low-income women.
#3: Judge Mariam Bazzi
Starting out as an assistant prosecuting attorney in 2006, Bazzi is an example of success of hard work and dedication. Mariam Bazzi now sits on the 3rd Circuit Court in Wayne County and attributes her work ethic to her parents.
Bazzi says, “I had the support of my family and community. Arab American is an important part of who I am. I am very proud of it and where I came from; I am the child of immigrants.”
She says that due to her traditional Lebanese upbringing, she assumed she would get married and have kids but never anticipated having a career. While she says there is certainly nothing wrong with that path, she eventually stayed in school and loved what she was doing which grew into a flourishing career and judgeship. She asserts that part of her new role is “to serve in this community and to be active in the Arab American community because I wanted to be, to someone what others were for me a guide. Somebody that can help mentor someone that can help push them. Someone that they can see themselves in.”
#4: Mona Haydar
(photo: Feda Eid)
Mona Haydar is a poet, activist, and rapper who has used her intersectional identity as a Syrian-American woman to create art that tackles important societal issues. She rose to fame in 2015 when her and her husband set up a stand called “Talk to a Muslim” where they would offer people coffee, donuts, and flowers to “replace trauma with love.” In 2017, Haydar released the song “Hijabi (Wrap My Hijab)” which broke down stereotypes, dispelled myths, and clarified who she is and what she stands for. The song was one of the “Top Protest Songs of 2017” and one of the “Top 25 Feminist Anthems.” Additionally, in 2016, Haydar took a stand with indigenous populations in the U.S. against the Key Stone Pipeline at the Standing Rock Indian reservation when she was 6 months pregnant with her second child.
#5: Candace “Candy” Lightner
The strength and initiatives of Lebanese-American Candace Lightner make it no wonder she was dubbed “one of the most influential American citizens of the twentieth century.” After her 13 year old daughter was killed by a drunk driver, Lightner founded MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) in 1980. Not only has she spearheaded a movement that has completely altered society’s acceptance of drunk driving and saved hundreds of thousands of lives, she also became a victim’s advocate and helped victims seek justice through the legal system. Her advocacy led to more than 700 bills at the state and national levels being passed, including legislation raising the drinking age to 21. To further life-saving efforts, she testified before Congress, statehouses and committee hearings and has formed coalitions, like SOS (Save Our Students) as influential political instruments. In 2014, Lightner founded We Save Lives, an organization that deals with highway safety issues, focusing on the “3 D’s” –drugged, drunk and distracted driving.
#6: Maryland State Delegate Dalya Attar
(photo: Dalya Attar)
During her time as a Baltimore city prosecutor and member of the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center, Attar noticed an alarming lack of support given to the children in her city and decided she wanted to run for office to create legislation. The Moroccon and Iranian-American is now serving as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. She is Maryland’s first Orthodox Jewish legislator and looks at her religion and beliefs, “not as something that hinders my career and desire to help people, but enhances that ability.” Attar has sponsored bills to improve her district and its communities through ensuring public safety, removing barriers to remarriage after divorce, compiling a list of federal or State incentive programs for employers who hire or train formerly incarcerated individuals, and more.
About running in 2018 with a wave of other female candidates, Attar says, “I was running for office at a time that many women wanted to step up and said, ‘It’s time for us now.’ We are just as strong as anyone else.”
There is only 1 MENA woman serving in Congress, only 6 MENA women serving in state legislatures nationwide, and no MENA women serving as mayor. These numbers are alarmingly low and the aforementioned women serve as reminders that all women are qualified to serve and make monumental improvements to the communities around them. Join the She Should Run Community to connect with other women and explore a run for office.
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