because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Huda Sha'arawi

Three years after Huda Sha'arawi was born into an upper class family in Minya, Egypt, in 1879, Great Britain invaded and occupied her country, but her life was circumscribed by ancient Egyptian rules for women. Women were expected to stay at home, even having their clothes delivered. Whenever a woman did leave the harem, they were required to cover their faces and hair. And though Sha'arawi was multi-lingual and well educated for a woman, she was married to a cousin at thirteen, as was typical. But that's where fate jumped in and changed her stars.

By whatever process of decision-making, the cousin chosen for Sha'arawi was not only a political activist, but a man who encouraged his wife to step out on her own as an individual in her own right. He supported her lecturing to and organizing women politically in their own best interests. He routinely sought her counsel and he even asked her to sit in on high level political meetings when he couldn't be present.

The result of all this was that, by World War I, Sha'arawi had established a women's welfare society to raise money for poor women, had helped to found a union for educated Egyptian women, and had opened a girls school that focused on academics instead of the things that women were usually allowed to learn. And, as soon as the war was over, in a particularly bold move, she started organizing women to protest the British occupation.

Then, in 1923, returning from a women's conference, Sha'arawi came down out of the train and shocked those who had come to meet her by simply removing her veil, instantly becoming -- quite literally -- the face of the Egyptian Feminist Union, a position she filled until her death at the age of sixty-eight. In one courageous act, Sha'arawi demonstrated her in-your-faced-ness by uncovering hers.

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