A Lens to the Past: The women's advocate

Daily Star Egypt Staff
3 Min Read

A group of women gather at Hoda Shaarawi s home in Cairo, taken by Riad Chehata. As a leading advocate of women s rights in Egypt, Shaarawi organized the Mubarrat Mohamed Ali, a women s social service organization, in 1909 and the Union of Educated Egyptian Women in 1914. She led the first women s street demonstration during the 1919 revolution, and was elected president of the Wafdist Women s Central Committee.

In 1923 Shaarawi founded and became the first president of the Egyptian Feminist Union, which sent her to an international feminist meeting in Rome. Upon her return, she removed her face veil in public for the first time, a signal event in the history of Egyptian feminism. She led Egyptian women pickets at the opening of Parliament in January 1924 and submitted a list of nationalist and feminist demands, which were ignored by the Wafdist government, whereupon she resigned from the Wafdist Women s Central Committee. She continued to lead the Egyptian Feminist Union until her death, publishing the feminist magazine L Egyptienne , and representing Egypt at women s congresses around the world.

She was instrumental in 1944 in convening the first Arab Feminist Conference and in 1945 in forming the Arab Feminist Union, which called for solidarity with the Arabs of Palestine. She also proposed internationalizing the Suez Canal and, shortly before her death, abolishing nuclear weapons. Even if only some of her demands were met during her lifetime, she laid the groundwork for later gains by Egyptian women and remains the symbolic standard-bearer for their liberation movement.

Born in the governorate of El-Minya, she was a daughter of Muhammad Sultan, and was taught to read the Quran and tutored in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Islamic subjects by Muslim women tutors in Cairo. She wrote poetry in both Arabic and French. Even as a young woman, she showed her independence by entering a department store in Alexandria to buy her own clothes instead of having them brought to her home. Against her will, she was married to her cousin, Ali Shaarawi.

The Arab Image Foundation is a non-profit organization established in Lebanon in 1997. The Foundation aims to locate, collect, preserve and promote the photographic heritage of the Middle East and North Africa. You can visit their extensive collection on www.fai.org.lb.

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