Basma Bint Talal (1951–)

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Basma Bint Talal

Princess Basma bint Talal is the sister of the late hussein bin talal, the king of Jordan. Over the past three decades, Princess Basma has worked to advance the rights of women and develop sustainable human development at the local, regional, national, and global levels.


Princess Basma was born on 11 May 1951 in Amman, Jordan, to King Talal bin Abdullah and Queen Zein Al Sharaf. She had three brothers, King Hussein I, Prince Muhammad, and Prince Hassan. Just months after her birth, on 20 July 1951, her grandfather, King Abdullah I, was assassinated. Her eldest brother, Hussein, was present at the attack. Following her grandfather's death, her father ascended to the throne. However, King Talal struggled with mental illness and was prone to bouts of extreme paranoia and violence.

After just thirteen months, the parliament asked for King Talal's abdication, with which he complied. He moved to Istanbul, Turkey, to receive treatment for his illness (diagnosed as schizophrenia) and died in 1972. Hussein thus took the throne in 1952, although he was not officially crowned until a year later when he turned eighteen years old; he ruled until his death in 1999. The princess's mother died in 1994.

Princess Basma received her primary education at the Ahliyya School in Amman, Jordan. During her teen years, she attended an all-girl boarding school, Benenden School, in England. On completing her secondary education she enrolled at Oxford where she specialized in languages. She is fluent in English as well as her native Arabic; she also speaks French and Spanish. Princess Basma completed her studies in May 2001 when she was awarded a Ph.D. from Oxford.

In 1970 Princess Basma married Timoor Daghestani, with whom she had two children: Farah (born 25 March 1971) and Ghazi (born 21 July 1974). In 1980, following her divorce from Daghestani, she married Walid Al Kurdi, with whom she also had two children: Saad (born 8 November 1982) and Zein Al Sharaf (born 1986).


Although Princess Basma's father was absent most of her life, her mother, Queen Zein, was a strong woman who took up charitable causes and advocated for women's rights. The queen assumed an important leadership role in the country during her husband's short reign, as well as served as the head of the Regency Council that officially ruled the country during the period between King Talal's abdication and King Hussein's eighteenth birthday in May 1953. During this time, Queen Zein helped rewrite the constitution, giving full voting rights to women for the first time.

Following in her mother's footsteps, Princess Basma made economic development and women's issues central to her work. In 1977 she officially entered public life when her brother, King Hussein, asked her to create the Queen Alia Fund for Social Development, which was subsequently renamed the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development (JOHUD). As chair of JOHUD, Princess Basma has pioneered the use of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to advance Jordan's sustainable development.


Name: Basma bint Talal (Princess Basma)

Birth: 1951, Amman, Jordan

Family: First husband, Timoor Daghestani (1970; divorced 1980); two children, Farah (born 25 March 1971), Ghazi (born 21 July 1974); second husband, Walid Al Kurdi (1980); two children, Saad (born 8 November 1982), Zein Al Sharaf (born 1986)

Nationality: Jordanian

Education: Oxford University, Ph.D., 2001


  • 1977: Founds and chairs Queen Alia Fund for Social Development (subsequently renamed the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development)
  • 1991: Institutes first National Goodwill Campaign
  • 1992: Founds and chairs the Jordanian National Committee for Women
  • 1994: Establishes Queen Zein Al Sharaf Institute for Development
  • 1999: Named honorary president of the General Federation of Jordanian Women
  • 2001: Appointed goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund

JOHUD operates through a network of fifty Community Development Centers throughout Jordan. Working with local community groups, JOHUD offers educational and training programs aimed at tackling a broad range of social and economic problems, including unemployment, relocation transition, poverty, nutrition, family planning, and illiteracy. Princess Basma has taken a particular interest in the needs of children and advancing the leadership role of women. For example, through JOHUD, Princess Basma instigated a national effort to increase the number and quality of preschools in the country, which are aimed at meeting young children's need for nutrition, education, and recreation.

Princess Basma has been instrumental in establishing numerous other NGOs and institutes that advance national issues of sustainable development as well as meeting local needs. As an example, she was at the forefront in the establishment of the National Goodwill Campaign in 1991, which distributes basic necessities such as food and clothing for families below the poverty line and also provides development funds to small business start-ups. By the beginning of the 2000s, the campaign had helped more 250,000 Jordanians. In 1994, following her mother's death, she established the Queen Zein Al Sharaf Institute for Development (ZENID). ZENID offers training and programs to extend the skill base of workers in NGOs, volunteer groups, and government agencies who are involved in development in the region.

A well-known advocate for women's issues, Princess Basma established the Jordanian National Committee for Women (JNCW) in 1992, which has successfully placed women's issues on the country's agenda. As chair of JNCW, Princess Basma helped set a precedent in the Arab world with the creation of a National Strategy for Women in 1993 that outlined development strategies for women in six areas: political, legislative, economic, social, educational, and health. Princess Basma's other leadership roles related to women's issues include serving as chairperson of the Jordanian National Forum for Women, a grassroots women's advocacy movement. She also inspired the creation of the Princess Basma Women's Resource Center at ZENID in 1996 and was named honorary president of the General Federation of Jordanian Women in 1999.


Princess Basma has advocated for human development issues within the global community and has with strong ties to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Since the early 1990s she has served a variety of positions, including membership on the Advisory Board to the former United Nations (UN) secretary-general boutros boutros-ghali, WHO's Global Commission on Women's Health, the Earth Council, Honorary Board of the Green Cross International, UNESCO's International Panel on Democracy and Development, and the International Advisory Board of the International Council on Social Welfare. She has also served as a goodwill ambassador for the UN Population Fund and the UN Development Fund for Women, and as honorary human development ambassador for the UNDP.


Situated in the war-torn Middle East, Jordan will continue to struggle to develop its resources, maintain its political balance, and provide for the needs of its underprivileged citizens, as well as the increasing flow of displaced persons coming into the country. For over thirty years Princess Basma has worked to better the lives of women and children and to create sustainable economic development within Jordan and around the world. Her legacy will be in the advancements in women's rights and the expansion of their leadership roles with society, the workforce, and the government, along with the foundation she has helped lay to build community organization and support to address national issues of poverty and unemployment.


The bounty of the earth is not inexhaustible. As it nourishes, so must it be nourished. If agriculture and rural development are to be sustainable—as they can be—ecological mechanisms must be understood and respected. We must learn to nurture and not undermine the efforts and aspirations of the poor and hungry, to nurture and not violate the natural resources upon which their livelihoods and lives depend."

"investing in the rural poor a challenge for the 21st century." un chronicle, fall 2000.

"Much of the success and acceptance of women's participation results from there having been a process of attitudinal change within society, especially at the grassroots level. Policies alone could not achieve such a change. Women themselves have had to carve out their own space in community life, demonstrating their skills and a conviction that it is their right to increase their public involvement."



"Basma Bint Talal." Her Royal Highness Basma Bint Talal of Jordan's official Web site. Available from

Basma Bint Talal. "Investing in the Rural Poor: A Challenge for the 21st Century." UN Chronicle 37, no. 3 (2000): 4.

Brand, Laurie. Women, the State, and Political Liberalization: Middle Eastern and North African Experience. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

"H.R.H. Princess Basma Bint Talal of Jordan: Royal Hashemite Fund for Human Development." United Nations Development Program. Available from

"Princess Basma Bint Talal: UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador." United Nations Population Fund. Available from

                                              Alisa Larson