Labiba Hashem, Syria's first woman government employee, at the Ministry of Eduction - 1919

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Labiba Hashem was born in Beirut and studied at the Beirut College for Women (BCW). She wrote for Lebanese newspapers at an early age and studied Arabic literature with private tutors, mainly Ibrahim al-Yazagi. She also studied Persian calligraphy and established herself as a leading and pioneering calligrapher in Syria and Lebanon. At Cairo salons she met Arab intellectuals of different backgrounds, empowering herself in history, poetry, and literature.

At the turn of the century, Hashem went to Cairo to pursue her literary and journalistic career, writing for the Egyptian magazines al-Hilal (The Crescent) and al-Thuraya (The Star). In 1906, she established her own magazine in Cairo called Fatat al-Sharq (Girl of the East). It was one of the first women's periodicals in the Arab world, and it inspired Mary Ajamy to set up al-Arus (The Bride) in Damascus in 1910. She continued to publish Fatat al-Sharq until 1939.

In 1909, Hashem sent a long letter to the Ottoman Parliament, outlining her vision for female education in the Middle East and demanding a curriculum change from the new Sultan Mehmed V Reshad. Specifically, she demanded more attention and funds for girls' schools in Syria and Lebanon. She also taught at Egyptian University, being the first woman to do so, in 1911. Inspired by the cultural life of Cairo, her talents flourished. She wrote many poems that were collected by the Lebanese journalist Nicolas al-Baz and published in a book on women's literature in 1919.

Hashem served as editor-in-chief of Fatat al-Sharq and employed a large number of young girls as freelancers, editors, and typesetters at her office in Cairo. She would distribute the magazine for free to girls' schools in Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon to encourage girls to read and write poetry, articles, and editorials. Hashem's magazine became very popular among women left behind in their homes during World War I when the region's men were conscripted into the Ottoman Army. She wrote against the war and encouraged the widows of dead soldiers, and the wives and daughters of men serving in the Ottoman Army, to work and provide for their own livelihood.

In October 1918, the Ottoman Empire was defeated and an Arab government was established in Damascus. Hashem supported King Faysal I, the new ruler of Syria, who declared himself an advocate of women's rights. In turn, Faysal appointed her inspector of education at the Ministry of Education, working with the minister and scholar, Sati al-Husari. Hashim was the first woman to hold a government post in Syria, dominated at the time by an all-men bureaucracy. Along with other women's right activists like Nazeq al-Abed, Ibtihaj Qaddura, and Salma Sayyigh, Hashem lobbied heavily for a law granting women their suffrage rights.

In 1921, one year after the French occupied Syria, Labiba Hashem moved to Latin America where she founded another newspaper, Sharq wa Gharb (East and West), in Chile. Among her most widely acclaimed books was Hasanat al-Hubb (Merits of Love) in 1898 and, Qalb Rajul (A Man's Heart), published in 1904.