She wanted Muslim women like her to have the world. So she gave them an entire universe.

Rozan Ahmed’s career path took her from the music industry to the United Nations — and that was just in her 20s.

Though she was born in London, Ahmed was raised with a great appreciation for her parents’ native Sudan, as well as a fascination for how people both create and perceive stories and other content across the world. She was particularly interested in the way that the historical influences of the pharaohs, the Nubians, the Arabs, and so many others had contributed to the rich and multifaceted culture of the northern African nation.

Despite that robust history, she realized the entire African continent had still been lumped into a kind of "single story." Even the people she knew in Sudan bought into that same negative image. "How is this allowed to happen?" she wondered. "Is this purposeful? Surely there are more people than just me who are visiting the continent."


Sudanese women. Photo by David Stanley/Flickr.

She began to question her career path and the ways her identity as a black British Muslim woman fit within a local and global context. Then she met a prince.

Prince Fahad Al Saud, that is, the grandson of the brother of the king of Saudi Arabia.

A graduate of Stanford University, Al Saud was part of the original team behind Facebook in Arabic — and he was largely socialized around forward-thinking, independent women, according to Ahmed, and is a stark contrast to what some people might expect from a wealthy Arab prince. "Fahad is certainly aware that he's a man," she says, "but he leans on women because he believes in them more, and was raised around strong women."

Ahmed and Al Saud at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for IWC.

A mutual friend introduced Ahmed and Al Saud. Like her, he was frustrated by the way his culture was portrayed in media. This inspired him to create a new media company called Na3am, a play on the Arabic word for "yes."

Given Ahmed’s background in stories and culture, they were a perfect creative match.

In 2015, Na3am announced the launch of "Saudi Girls Revolution," a series of interconnected video games and comic books set in a post-apocalyptic world full of awesome Arab heroines.

Early character sketches from "Saudi Girls Revolution," provided courtesy of Na3am.

"It is the story of the girls breaking out and liberating the Arab empire by replacing its leaders," Al Saud said when the series was announced. "We're focusing on trying to represent different stories and demographics of Saudi women in the protagonists we have."

The seven protagonists — all Saudi women — travel the desert wastes with motorcycles and jetpacks, facing off against mutant enemies and an evil regime of oppressive men who control the last remaining resources in the land. In its earliest hype, "Saudi Girls Revolution" was already receiving favorable comparisons to American movies like "Mad Max: Fury Road."

A few of the "Saudi Girls Revolution" comic book covers, courtesy of Na3am.

"'Saudi Girls Revolution' is an attempt to show the rest of the world that there’s a lot more to us as Arab women," adds Ahmed, who serves as editor for the comics. "We’re strong. We’re powerful. We know we overcome. We’re badass. We’re so many other things."

Of course, some detractors have been eager to point out the ironies of the SGR universe, considering the real-life treatment of some Saudi women.

It is still illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia, and the country's workforce is still overwhelmingly male. But video games and comics featuring motorcycle-riding badasses aren't restricted by the same expectations.

"It's a fictional universe, and we're showing the world as we want it to be, not things as they are," Ahmed says.

Image from "Latifa #1" by Fahad Al Saud and Stan Berkowitz, illustrated by Sebastian Navas. Used with permission.

While things are far from perfect for women in Saudi Arabia, Arab women in other countries have made great gains in recent years. "The Arab world is so varied when it comes to female achievement. Of course there’s setbacks, but there’s setbacks everywhere you go," Ahmed adds.

"It comes down to choosing which problems you prefer. I prefer to celebrate the beauty that comes forth from the world, particularly Africa and Arabia, and I use that beauty to address the problems as well."

From "Latifa #1" by Fahad Al Saud and Stan Berkowitz, illustrated by Sebastian Navas. Used with permission.

"I believe that we are living in the future right now, and it is inclusive," Ahmed says. "'Saudi Girls Revolution' is a part of that future. So get on the ride and enjoy it with us, because it’s a beautiful ride."

The first chapter of the comic was released in November 2016 and focuses on a character named Latifa, whose name means "compassionate" in Arabic despite the fact that her story is one of vengeance. "For me, it represents the ability to be both. It raises the question of: When is it right to fight?" Ahmed says.

That's exactly why something like "Saudi Girls Revolution" is so exciting and so important for the world right now: It helps us to embrace the duality of our selves while inspiring greater change on a personal and global scale.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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This article originally appeared on 03.19.15


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