Editor, Leading English Newspaper, women advocate, Manama, Bahrain

If all you have time for is a first impression, Ms. Toorani will come across as reserved and understated. Mere moments later however, you may sense a hint of a raised eyebrow action, a twinkle of mischief, and get a subtle feeling that your emotional intelligence is under surveillance and assessment. You find yourself in a presence of a whip smart reporter.

Ms. Toorani cares deeply about her community and volunteers as an advocate with an organization in Bahrain focused on helping victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. I photographed Noor in action, as she trained the next generation of volunteers in the breakout sessions. Ms. Toorani is really good at what she does and whatever hat she is wearing in that moment, she shows up and excels. I am so pleased to shine a spotlight on this bright, funny and fascinating WOW Woman.

1. Name

Noor Toorani.

2. Where is your hometown?

I was born and raised in Manama, Bahrain – a tiny, beautiful, multicultural island kingdom in the Arabian Gulf.

3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?

I am the News Editor of Bahrain’s leading English daily newspaper, the Gulf Daily News (GDN). This makes me the only female News Editor among the six national newspapers in the country.

I have been told repeatedly by other journalists that I’m (still) the youngest editor in the field – I think this has always meant to be a sort of dig at me being promoted to the post of Deputy News Editor at 25 and then News Editor at 28. According to many, this makes me inexperienced, even though I started working full time as a journalist at 20 while also attending night classes at university to complete my bachelor’s degree. Having said that, however, I’ve always taken the comments about my age as a compliment – it’s all about how you interpret negative energy, right? I used to relish in it until I hit my 30s! Haha! 

I also volunteer as a women’s crisis advocate for Bahrain-based Women’s Crisis Care International (WCCI), which is a non-profit organisation – the first of its kind in the entire Middle East region – that provides crisis management, emotional support and logistical information to women facing domestic or sexual violence.

4. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career-wise)? What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of, and what was the turning point to set you on a current path in life?

It wasn’t easy being a young female journalist covering mostly male-dominated fields, but I was lucky to have a great support system at the office in the form of my colleagues and editors. There were many instances where I walked into a room and I was one of a handful of women! It was quite intimidating, honestly, and it took me a while to get my bearings and learn to project my voice to cut through all the noise and make myself heard.

I also got the strength and determination to continue from the ridiculous support I received from my parents (I say ridiculous because they truly are like cheerleaders, doesn’t matter what me or my two siblings set our minds to, they are there to cheer us on).

When I became editor I quickly came into my own and learned that I liked being in the director’s seat – to be behind the scenes and navigate everything.

At first it was difficult as there was resistance from older reporters to have to answer to someone so much younger, but it all added to my experience and made us grow better and closer as a team.

Of everything I’ve achieved, though, I am most proud of having the ability to have a say in the decision making process – when I became News Editor, I made it a point to hire more women and more Bahrainis, going from 30% women to over 60% women.

When I first joined the field, there were few female print journalists from across the national newspapers; now we (almost) dominate the field. This is a testament to the overall progress Bahrain has made, especially in the last ten years.

5. What did you study in school?

I have a bachelor’s degree in international studies. It honestly was a tough few years, as I mentioned earlier I worked full time at the newspaper at the start of my second year of university – there were days where I had to attend an 8 AM class, drive across the country to the court complex (I was the court/crime correspondent for a while), drive to the office and then head to the rest of my classes in the evening. Lets just say I’m glad this period is in my rear view mirror!

Okay, re-reading this answer it sounds like I had a terrible university experience, but I really didn’t! I had a social life and took part in extracurricular activities (don’t ask how I had the time – you do unnecessarily exhausting things when you’re young). I was even selected to go on a two-month educational and cultural exchange scholarship programme to the USA during my third year, and I ran for the student council elections (and FAILED)!

6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?

I don’t think I ever pictured this! That was meant to sound excited, hopeful and grateful – but I’ve been told I come off as sarcastic in writing (and speaking!).

I created a vision board with my girlfriends a lifetime ago and there were a few things I placed on the board that I haven’t achieved yet, but I think in hindsight where I am right now - in my personal and professional life - is where I was always meant to be.

7. Was there a time when life knocked you down or out and how did you get back up on your feet?

Every person has a struggle or a breaking point or as you say experiences 'being knocked down – mine has always been connected to my health.

It’s difficult for me to fully discuss it as I’ve always been private and only those closest to me truly know the battle I’ve faced with my chronic immune condition.

It’s been ups and downs, more downs than I care to admit. However, now, at this stage in my life, I have come to realise just how grateful I am for my illness. It has shown me that I am truly blessed and the experience made me more humble than I ever was. It has also given me strength I never knew I had and empowered me to take control of my life (you know, the part that doesn’t rely on medications!).

8. Advice for other women?

I don’t think I’m in any position or have achieved anything major to advise other women – I’m still trying to figure out life, career and the elusive balance people keep talking about.

However, I will steal something my wonderful mother always says, which I live by: Do what makes you happy, truly happy, and don’t think of what people might say, and mostly importantly don’t look back, regrets serve no purpose.

9. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it, for "feminist values"?

Yes, I believe we can. The world is evolving to encompass “feminist values”, the Middle East is evolving, and most importantly society as a whole is evolving.

I can only speak for my experience in my own country – I might be biased because I’m Bahraini, but I’m sure many will agree with me here, Bahrain has always been ahead of the pack in terms of social progress, freedoms and women empowerment, but in recent years we truly have made strides both on the government level in terms of policies being enforced or legislation amended and on the civil society level.

For example, a programme like Women’s Crisis Care International (WCCI) would not be as successful anywhere else in the Gulf, or the wider Middle East. WCCI operates English and Arabic helplines 24 hours a day, seven days a week with over 130 advocates volunteering their time to provide crisis care to women facing domestic or sexual violence. The success and reach WCCI has had in Bahrain in just four years is a testament to the laws that protect women, the awareness of the Bahraini and expatriate communities, their willingness to engage, and the cultural diversity and religious tolerance that is truly unique to Bahrain.

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As a nation we still have a long way to go before true gender equality is achieved, but we are on the right path, no doubt about it.

10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?

When I’m among my family – whether it’s a regular gathering at my grandmother’s house, meeting for dinner, or a desert camping trip (don’t be fooled though, Arab camping trips involve luxurious tents with television sets, air conditioning units and restaurants sending their waitstaff to prepare barbeque dinners).

11. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?

Do watching football and cyber stalking my favourite club/players count? I didn’t think so.

In all seriousness, I am extremely proud of joining WCCI and being trained as a crisis advocate. It has given me the opportunity to give back to the community, highlight an important issue, and provide assistance to women in distress.

I joined WCCI as a favour to a friend, who was an abuse survivor and didn’t want to go through the process of training to become an advocate alone, but I stayed because WCCI has given me more than I could ever give back. It is a group of inspiring women, who motivate me on a personal level to keep advocating even when faced with the toughest of cases. I have never been part of such a large community of pure female support; it just shows you the power women have when given the space to shine. 

12. What do you want to be when you grow up?

Every incredible woman I have ever come across.

13. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?

To not have so many fears!

14. Anything you'd do differently, if you had another go at life?

That’s the beauty of life, we only have this once chance and we can either make the conscious decision to make the best of it or drown in existential crisis.

15. What inspires you?

Honestly, it can be different things on different days. Sometimes it’s a simple conversation with my siblings, a great yoga class or motivation from the amazing men and women around me. 

16. What are you hopeful about?

Female empowerment in my country - I know progress has become a redundant word, but in this case it is spot on. In the last three to five years, specifically, a number of new laws have been enforced to protect women, more women than ever ran in the 2018 national elections, and there are more women in managerial roles than ever, in both public and private sectors. There’s still work to be done, but overall there’s a lot to be hopeful about.

17. What are some ingredients to a good life?

I think it was Mark Twain who said: “Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”

18. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?

To stop obsessing about, and planning for, the future. Also, you will never master winged eyeliner so let it go!

19. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)

I know I’m late to the game, but I’ve recently finished reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by debut novelist Gail Honeyman. There aren’t enough words to describe how this book wrecked me emotionally and then put me back together. It’s been a long time since a novel had me so invested. Such an incredible read, I’ve recommended it to everyone I know.  

Regarding my favourites, let me put something in perspective for you: I’m 32 years old, which means I was about 10 when the first Harry Potter book was released – I think you know where this is going!

20. Who is a WOW Woman in your world who inspires you and why? Can you nominate three (or more) women you know who perfectly fit WOW WOMAN description? What would you tell them if you had an opportunity, of why you admire them?

A. Rasha Yousif – Rasha is a Bahraini documentary and travel photographer whose fearless outlook on life is a true inspiration. When she’s not at her day job in investment, she travels the world to give people a voice through her work and has so far visited 72 countries. She also founded @FotoBH, which is the largest photography community in Bahrain.

B. Raji Unnikrishnan – Raji is a seasoned Indian journalist who works for the GDN based in Bahrain and has the kindest heart I have ever comes across. She fights for the underprivileged and highlights their struggles, even if it sometimes means coming under fire as a result.  

C. Mary-Justine Todd – Mary is the founder of WCCI and is no stranger to WOW Woman. She has been an inspiration to me, both on a professional and personal level – her dedication to WCCI and helping women gives me the strength to handle the sometimes traumatic cases. Also, if it wasn’t for her persistence I would have never found yoga in the way I have now come to love.

21. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?

The best way to reach me is through my work email, noort@gdn.com.bh.

However, if football rants and different angled pictures of my dog are your thing, then my social media accounts are @Nooy2rani (Twitter) and @Noor2rani (Instagram).