Huda Sha'rawi : Founder of the women's movement in Egypt.
Huda Sha'rawi was an Egyptian feminist and nationalist, considered the founder of the women's movement in Egypt.
Sha'rawi was born on June 23, 1879, into a prosperous family in the Egyptian city of Al-Minya. She was brought up in Cairo. Her father, Muhammad Sultan Pasha, was a land owner active in national politics. He held various government posts and was a member of the Chamber of Delegates in 1876.
As an upper-class female, Huda Sha'rawi was brought up according to the traditional gender norms of the harem system. At that time, women were confined to secluded apartments within their homes and had to wear face veils while going outside. Sha'rawi received elite education at home. The primary language of instruction was French. At the age of 13, she was married to her older cousin Ali Sha'rawi, who was already in his 40s. She lived separately from him for seven years, during which she pursued her education. Under severe pressure from the family, Huda Sha'rawi reconciled with her husband in 1900. The couple had two children, Bathna, a daughter in 1903 and a son, Muhammad, in 1905.
In 1908, Huda Sha'rawi helped establish the first secular philanthropic organisation by Egyptian women. It was a medical dispensary for underprivileged women and children. Sha'rawi and her husband were staunch supporters of the cause of Egyptian independence from Great Britain. Ali Sha'rawi was the founding member of the nationalist Wafd Party.
In 1920, Huda Sha'rawi established the Wafdist Women's Central Committee and served as its first president. It was a milestone in the political history of Egypt as these many women were never engaged publicly in political activism before.
After the death of her husband, Huda Sha'rawi shifted her focus from nationalist movement towards women's equality. In 1923, she founded the Egyptian Feminist Union (EFU). This organisation campaigned for women's suffrage, reforms to personal status laws and increased educational opportunities for girls and women.
In 1923, Huda Sha'rawi performed an act of protest in which she is best remembered in the history of Egyptian feminist movements. While returning from a conference of the International Women Suffrage Alliance in Rome, she was greeted at the station in Cairo by a group of supporters. She removed her face veil in a symbolic act of liberation. Through this act of protest alone, she became the figurehead of the Egyptian feminist movement.
In 1925, under the leadership of Sha'rawi, the Egyptian Feminist Union launched the magazine L’Égyptienne (later Al-Misriyyah). Sha'rawi was the president of the Egyptian Feminist Union until her death. Sha'rawi's work brought her international fame. In the 1930s, when Palestinian women faced a political crisis, they contacted Sha'rawi for help. She offered them advice and helped them in the formation of the Arab Feminist Union. She also became the founding president, and in 1946, the Arab Feminist Union launched Al-Marʾah al-Arabiyyah ("The Arab Woman").
For her service to her country's independence movement, Sha'rawi was awarded the Nishan al-Karmal award in 1945. Sha'rawi died on August 12, 1947, in Cairo. After her death, the EFU's name was changed to the Shaarawi Society for the Feminist Renaissance as a tribute to the legacy of Huda Sha'rawi.