Qatar teen named among the world’s 100 most inspirational women

Fanillacouture / Jerome Elizaga

Nawaal Akram

Qatar-born 18-year-old Nawaal Akram has been included in the BBC’s list of the world’s most inspirational women.

The Pakistani expat is one of only three women from the Middle East region to make the BBC 100 Women 2017 list.

Diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy as a child, Akram has worked to battle discrimination and societal stereotypes toward disability in Qatar.

Despite being denied a secondary school education, she is now a comedian and a model.

She is also the founder of a regional support group, Muscular Dystrophy Middle East.

Inspiring line-up

Akram was nominated to the list by a journalist from the BBC Urdu service, who had interviewed her recently.

Maria Ovsyannikova

Nawaal Akram

After being told she was a finalist, Akram said she “honestly thought” she would not make the final cut.

“The day before the final list came out I couldn’t sleep,” she told Doha News. “But in the morning I got a phone call saying, congratulations, you made it. It was a shock.”

Akram said that she was “particularly amazed” to be on the list because it featured so many accomplished people.

The list includes data scientists, Olympic athletes and many other leaders, including Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She is the first elected female head of state in Africa.

“Seeing myself in the same list as these amazing women who have changed lives and changed history – it is a big moment as me. You know, with me not having an education – it shows I can make a change, I cannot let my past define me,” she said.

Changing perceptions of disability

Now regarded as a social media influencer in Qatar, Akram is seeking to use her following to help change attitudes toward disability in the country – especially schools.

“I hope that in the future, more educational places around Qatar and in the wider region will start giving people with disabilities more chances. They have a right to an education,” she said.

One of her projects is a new YouTube channel on which she plans to showcase restaurants, beauty salons and other venues in Qatar that are accessible to disabled people and their families and friends.

“I do a lot of things that people don’t consider normal for me to be doing. I am really hoping that people will watch them and be inspired by it,” she said.

She is also working with photographer Maria Ovsyannikova and make-up artist Debi Mendez on the Nawarti Dreams project, which aims to show disability through conceptual photography.

What can you see …? #arabart #disability #society #art #fineart #photography #doha #qatar

A post shared by Nawarti_dreams (@nawarti_dreams) on

“It is showcasing strength and beauty and showing that disability is in the culture, and that it is everywhere,” Akram said.

If you have Muscular Dystrophy and would like to join Muscular Dystrophy Middle East, you can fill in a form to do so here.

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