Huda Shaarawi

Huda Shaarawi, Siza Nebrawi and Nabawiya Moussa

88 years, she removed her veil in public at a Cairo train station announcing the beginning of a new path towards equality for the Arab Woman.

A couple of weeks ago, we remembered her in the middle of the Arab Spring carrying the flag of justice, freedom, progresses and facing the shadow of fundamentalism and the rise of the salafism claiming the monopoly of the absolute truth.

This is an occasion to shed the light on a central figure in early twentieth century Egyptian feminism. Born into a very wealthy family, Huda Shaarawi spent her early years in the harem. She was involved in philanthropic projects throughout her life. As a matter of fact, she created the first philanthropic society run by Egyptian women, offering social services for poor women and children. She argued that women-run social service projects were important for two reasons. First, by engaging in such projects, women would widen their horizons, acquire practical knowledge and direct their focus outward. Second, such projects would challenge the view that all women are creatures of pleasure and beings in need of protection.

She then founded the Intellectual Association of Egyptian Women as well as the Egyptian Feminist Union (EFU), in which she was to remain active throughout her life. The EFU focused on various issues, particularly women’s suffrage, increased education for women, and changes in the Personal Status laws.

Huda Shaarawi was very involved in the Egyptian nationalist struggle, and was a central player in organizing a march of upper and middle class women against the British in 1919.

Upon her return from the Rome conference in 1923, Shaarawi performed an act that has come to stand as a central symbol of her life: she removed her veil but kept the hijab. She was savagely attacked but her perseverance made the fathers bend gradually to her objective. She used to say: “How can an ignorant woman lead a home and a family? How could a nation deliver decent men if not brought up and nurtured with values by educated mothers?”

Did the questions raised by Huda Shaarawi find answers 100 years after? Does History always take us back to a point of beginning? When we read Shaarawi today, could we say: “Yes, we made it!? Only the Future would give a clear answer.

One Thought on “Huda Shaarawi

  1. mona makram ebeid on January 27, 2012 at 5:15 pm said:

    Glad to tell u we are reviving Hoda Shaaraoui’s Egyptian Women Federation which she founded in 1923 first in the Arab world and cosequent to 1919 Revolution

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