Huda Sha'arawi, Egyptian Feminist

Huda Sha'arawi was born June 23, 1879 in Cairo, Egypt to a wealthy family. As part of her cultural tradition and due the wealth of her family, Huda grew up in a harem with little contact with the outside world. It was in the harem, with face veiled, that Huda received her formal education. At the age of 13, Huda was married to her cousin, Ali Sharawai who was in his late 40's. Ali had promised to leave his slave concubine but produced a child with his slave after his marriage to Huda. Because of this, Huda chose to live separate from her husband and forge ahead in her studies. This independence gave her opportunities to explore political activism. However, with the insistence of her family, Huda moved in with her husband. Together, they bore two children.

Even while living under such traditions, Huda and her husband were active together in Egypt's political world, becoming founding members of the Nationalist Wafd Party that fought for Egypt's independence from Great Britain.  This new movement invited women to openly participate in politics and became a turning point for Egyptian women throughout the nation.

 Huda desired that Egyptian women would come to understand that they were not created for the sexual pleasure of men, nor did they require protection as the "weaker" sex. Because of this, she created the first philanthropic society ran by women in 1908. Two year later, Huda opened a school for girls that focused on academics rather than preparing them to be wives and mothers, as had been tradition.

Years later, when Ali died, Huda began to work towards support for women's issues, founding the Egyptian Women's Union in 1923. This organization fought for increased education for girls and personal status laws.

After attending a women's conference in Europe, Huda returned to Egypt. After stepping off the rain into the crowd, Huda lifted her hands to her face and removed her veil. In that crowd, a ripple of shock and silence fell before an eruption of cheers. Women applauded and removed their own veils. Over the next ten years, more and more Egyptian women refused to wear the veil. By the time she died in 1947, Huda had changed the culture of Egypt for women and girls, forever inspiring new generations to advocate for equality.

For more on Huda, you may purchase her memoirs here.


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