BEIRUT: Three Lebanese women are featured as part of the BBC’s 100 Women of 2014, a list of inspiring figures from around the world published Sunday night by the British public service broadcaster.
Beirut-based engineer and entrepreneur Hind Hobeika, London-based composer Bushra El-Turk and Lebanese-Egyptian artist, designer and art historian Bahia Shehab are included on this year’s 100 Women list, part of the BBC’s pledge to better represent women in its international coverage.
The list includes women from all around the world who work in diverse fields such as human rights, science, the arts, medicine, law and journalism. The BBC is running a series of interviews, debates and conversations with the women on World News TV, its website and World Service Radio through Wednesday night. Women worldwide are also encouraged to voice their own thoughts using the Twitter hashtag #100Women.
“It’s a huge privilege and a huge platform, unlike any other, to tell you the truth, to be included in the BBC 100 Women,” Turk told The Daily Star. “It’s also amazing to be the voice and vehicle to speak on behalf of women who were not recognized. I was asking them what their thoughts were and if they wanted to voice anything that needed to be voiced.
“So it was my opportunity to do that as well, on behalf of others who would not be heard any other way.”
The 31-year-old composer was also included in last year’s selection of women, which marked the launch of the annual event. This year Turk, who co-founded the Chelsea Music Academy, a center for music education, intercultural events and research specializing in Middle Eastern and Western idioms, took part in a televised discussion on how to bring up girls, chaired by Dr. Joyce Banda, the former president of Malawi.
Turk, who is also artistic director and leader of Ensemble Zar, a cross-genre project made up of musicians trained in Western and oriental music, said her advice for young women hoping to make a difference would be, “Don’t fall for the stereotypes that everyone tries to pigeonhole you under.”
Young women often face pressure to get married at a young age, rather than pursue a career, she said. “Follow the path that calls to you,” she advised, “and that’s not necessarily just motherhood or just being a wife.”
The BBC faced backlash last year for failing to include any scientists in their list. This year’s inclusion of engineer Hobeika is going some way toward redressing the oversight. The 26-year-old entrepreneur, who studied mechanical engineering at the American University of Beirut, came up with the idea for the innovative Instabeat while training for the university swimming team.
A heart rate monitoring device attached to a pair of goggles, Instabeat allows swimmers to accurately keep track of their pulse rate. Currently Hobeika’s team are shipping the newly-released product to customers in 53 countries worldwide and working on adapting it for athletes in a range of other disciplines.
“I think they are looking for women who made a difference in their county and in their profession,” Hobeika said, “especially in the Middle East and in the field of technology, where women are not prominent. It’s a very male dominated domain.”
Work demands meant that Hobeika was unable to travel to London for the BBC’s conferences, but the young CEO took part in a televised debate with two other women on the subject of funding for women in sports, focusing on the Arab region and the sports tech industry.
“I’m very honored and humbled to be on the list,” she said. “The other women are so impressive, but you know, you need to be happy about these things for five minutes and then it needs to motivate you to work even harder.”
A total of 11 Arab women were selected by the BBC for inclusion in this year’s event, comprising Saudi mental health and obesity scientist Dr. Yasmin Altwaijri, Iraqi mother and sole provider for her family Umm Ahmed, Saudi comedian Hartoon Kadi, founder of women’s empowerment NGO The Voice of Libyan Women Alaa Murabit, co-founder of the Tunisian Centre for Social Entrepreneurship Asma Mansour, Syrian researcher and public health worker Khuloud Saba and Egyptian businesswoman Sally Sabry.
Hobeika’s message to young women was to ignore the negatives and remain determined to succeed.
“Choosing to be a professional athlete or choosing to start your own tech company is all about a decision and a mind-set,” she said. “You can choose to decide that you're a woman and it’s not right for you, you can choose to decide that your country is at conflict and there’s nothing you can do, but you can also choose to decide that you’re going to make it and be super stubborn about it.
“This is the attitude I’ve had for the past few years and I think that anyone with the right attitude and some positivity is able to make it.”