A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

For International Women's Day after Tahrir Today: A Brief Tribute to Hoda Sha‘arawi

In belated tribute to the brave Egyptian women who were harassed and cursed in their demonstration for International Women's Day in Tahrir Square today, a moment to reflect on the pioneer of Egyptian feminism, Hoda (Huda) Sha‘arawi.

Sha‘arawi (1879-1947) is generally seen as the first real feminist activist within the Egyptian national movement. Though she has a street named for her in central Cairo, I fear that if she were alive today she would be shocked by what she would see as a retrograde direction in women's rights. For background see her Wikipedia page here; a page devoted to her here; and a Facebook fan site here.

Educated, the daughter and wife of prominent men, she was active in the nationalist movement and organized women's demonstrations in the 1919 Revolution. She visited Europe, and attended an international women's suffrage conference in Rome in 1923 (it is worth remembering women were just achieving the vote even in the US and Europe). On her return to Cairo in 1923, the same year as Sa‘d Zaghloul's return, she famously and symbolically removed her veil in public at the railway station. (Though she was more active on political and other rights issues, she is perhaps most remembered for the symbolic removal of the veil.) The same year she founded the Egyptian Feminist Union. She was active in the Wafd Party until it rejected her proposed reforms; at left she is shown (on the left) with Safia Zaghloul, wife of Sa‘d Zaghloul (at right).

Though many of her goals were frustrated, she raised consciousness among elite Egyptian women and was seen as as pioneer of later women activists who achieved the vote and other progress in the Nasser era and since.

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