Sixteen-year-old Amina Filali became a cause célèbre for Moroccan women's rights activists when she committed suicide by swallowing rat poison after she was forced to marry her rapist in accordance with a court order. Her act triggered a human rights campaign -- including a sit-in outside Parliament, a petition, and a Facebook group -- to repeal Article 475 in Morocco's penal code, which allows men to escape punishment for crimes if they wed their victims. One week after Filali died in the northwestern city of Larache, hundreds of women's rights advocates filled the streets in the capital, Rabat, to protest the retrograde law.
Computer security consultant Manal al-Sharif made headlines in May 2011 when a colleague filmed her driving a car in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, as part of her advocacy campaign for Saudi women's right to drive. The video was posted on YouTube and Facebook, and it soon spread like wildfire. Four days later, about 600,000 people had already watched the footage. Although officials jailed her for nine days as punishment for breaking the prohibition on female drivers in Saudi Arabia -- the only country in the world with such a ban -- her actions successfully galvanized a rare bout of popular protest in the kingdom. On June 17, several dozen Saudi women got behind the wheel to repeat Sharif's act of defiance.
SAMIRA IBRAHIM, and RASHA ABDEL RAHMAN
On March 9, 2011, Salwa el-Husseini, Samira Ibrahim, and Rasha Abdel Rahman were just peaceful protesters at a sit-in at Tahrir Square -- a small group of thousands who had gathered to protest against the ruling military regime. But that changed when they were arrested by the Egyptian military along with 15 other female activists, strip-searched, and subjected to "virginity tests" in which the hymen is forcefully penetrated to check for blood. The three broke long-standing social taboos by speaking out about their treatment: Husseini agreed to be filmed as she recounted what happened at a news conference, while Abdel Rahman gave graphic details of her abuse in court. Although a military tribunal cleared the doctor who performed the tests of all charges, Ibrahim won a major victory when a Cairo administrative court heard her case and banned virginity tests on female detainees in military prisons.
Pediatric consultant Najwa Fituri is in charge of treating premature babies at the al-Jalaa maternity hospital in Benghazi, Libya, but when the revolution against Muammar al-Qaddafi descended into a bloody civil war, she heeded a new calling: smuggling drugs to treat anti-Qaddafi fighters. A member of the female empowerment group Women for Libya, Fituri hopes to be part of a new generation of Libyan women. "If [women] are qualified, they should be leaders of Libya," she told the BBC in December. "Everyone has the right to dream."
Without the perseverance of human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh, the world would be even more in the dark about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's killings and torture of civilian protesters. Her daily reporting on the Assad regime's atrocities -- which she posted to her website, the Syrian Human Rights Information Link -- served as a critical source for foreign media. Although forced to go into hiding in March 2011 after the government accused her of being a foreign agent, Zaitouneh was awarded the Anna Politkovskaya Award for her human rights activism in a conflict zone, and she was a co-recipient of last year's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Foreign Policy also honored her in 2011 as one of its top 100 Global Thinkers. "I'm very proud to be Syrian and to be part of these historical days, and to feel all that greatness inside my people," she said in a video accepting the award. "We highly appreciate all the help … of those who supported us in any way around the world."