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Huda Sha’arawi
Stories of inspiration from Smart Girl Stories across the globe. Huda Sha’arawi – The Egyptian Feminist Movement

Huda Sha’arawi – The Egyptian Feminist Movement

Huda Sha’arawi, who lived from 1879 to 1947, was the first Egyptian female to take off her hijab publicly to denote her support for the feminist movement and then throw it into the Mediterranean Sea. She prompted and organized events to support women’s rights in Egypt. Huda Sha’arawi founded the Egyptian Feminist Union (EFU). 

The Life of Huda Sha’arawi 

Noorulhadi Sultan, who we now know as Huda Sha’arawi, was born in the Egyptian city of Elmania into the famous and isolated Sha’arawi family. At thirteen years old, they forced Huda to marry her guardian, Ali Sha’arawi. He was 40 years old and had other women and children older than Huda.

Huda refused to live in Ali’s house until she was twenty-one. Sha’arawi was aware of her disadvantaged situation as a female during her developmental years, particularly noticing her brother received more educational opportunities.

Seyyed Khadija Maghribi, a female poet, greatly impacted her during her childhood. As she writes,  “Observing Sayyida Khadija convinced me that, with learning, women could be the equals of men if not surpass them.”

In her memoirs, “My Memoirs,” she detailed her early life, and the English version, “Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist,” is a translation and summary of it. 

 Huda Sha’arawi ‘s Actions 

She established the first philanthropic organization run by Egyptian women in 1909, offering social contributions to impoverished women and children. In 1910, Sha’arawi extended a school for girls that concentrated on teaching academic subjects rather than practical skills. Sha’arawi prompted political activity in 1919, simultaneously with the British nationalist and anti-colonial actions in Egypt. She entered the Wafd party and played an essential role in organizing women’s demonstrations against England.

In 1920, Wafdist Women’s Central Committee (WWCC) was established, in which Huda played an important role and was elected as the first head of this committee. Sha’arawi found the Egyptian Feminist Union in 1923 in protest against the non-granting of voting rights to women by the newly independent Egyptian nationalists and became the first head of this association whose main goals are women’s suffrage, increasing education, marriage, and divorce, custody and finally varying the laws was the blessing of women. 

Since the Wafd government did not focus on women’s issues, Huda Sha’arawi resigned from Wafdist Women’s Central Committee in 1924. 

In 1923, she went to the women’s suffrage conference in Rome and gave a speech. In her address, she considered the position of Egyptian women and men to be equal in ancient Egypt and Islam and assumed the reason for discrimination against women in contemporary Egypt to be the occupation of this country by foreign countries. She took off her hijab (Veil) on her way back from the conference as a sign of support for the feminist movement and threw it into the Mediterranean Sea. According to her, hijab was the manifestation of “big obstacles for women’s way to have a part in social life.” 

In 1925, she published “Egyptian woman” magazine, and in 1937  

“Al-Masriya” magazine, both of which were women’s magazines. 

The Egyptian Feminist Union hosted the Arab Feminist Congresses in Cairo in 1944. Huda’s speech at the beginning and end of this conference is one of the most important feminist texts of Arab women. She was also awarded the Order of Virtues in 1945. 

An Emblem Of Resistance

Until her death, she continued to lead the Egyptian feminist union and represented Egypt in women’s congresses in eleven countries. She suggested the internationalization of the Suez Canal and, shortly before her death, the abolition of nuclear weapons.  

Huda Sha’arawi is an emblem of resistance, being faithful to the way and not accepting and conforming to the laws and conditions that lead to the diminution of the role of half of the society, namely females. 

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