Nawal-El Saadawi, activist

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“Solidarity between women can be a powerful force of change, and can influence future development in ways favourable not only to women but also to men.”

Nawal El-Saadawi, The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World

Courageous and fierce are just 2 words to describe this Octagenarian.  She has fought for women’s rights, equality, religious freedom and social change in places where such ideas are not tolerated.  Born in 1931 Egypt, she was forcibly circumcised at age 6, narrowly avoided being married off at age 10, and told by her own grandmother that girls are a blight, that boys have 15 times more value than girls.

But her unwavering spirit and strong sense of self-worth wouldn’t give in to social norms, and she went on to become a medical doctor specializing in psychiatry.  She wrote highly controversial books, even by today’s standards, and took on high profile positions including Director of the Ministry of Health, university lecturer, and Chief Editor for Health Magazine in Cairo.  She became a champion for women’s rights based not only on her own experiences, but on the cruelties suffered by the many women she treated, especially opposing the religious practice of FGM (female genital mutilation, aka female circumcision).  Writing, however, has always been her primary passion, even when it caused her to lose multiple jobs, endure imprisonment, and ultimately be forced to flee Egypt.  As always, adversity only made her more determined to carry out her will.   The writing never stopped, even in prison: Danger has been a part of my life ever since I picked up a pen and wrote. Nothing is more perilous than truth in a world that lies.”    (Memoirs from the Women’s Prison, Nawal El-Saadawi)

Homa Khaleeli, The Guardian, 2010

Katherine Ross, The Best of Habibi

Her activism crosses multiple lines:  gender, religion, culture, social class, politics, national borders— she should be celebrated by everyone as a heroine against human injustices of all kinds, and the fact that she accomplished all she did as a woman in an anti-feminist era makes her that much more remarkable.  It’s crucial for all women to follow her lead and stand up for our rights as equals.  Even here in the US, women can’t take for granted the rights that have been won, nor turn a blind eye to the injustices still present.

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