Nawal El-Saadawi… A Woman of Special character

Sunday, March 28, 2021 - 14:13

Nawal El-Saadawi… A Woman of Special character.......

A journey that started on 27 October 1931.


Nawal El-Saadawi is a doctor, a writer, a novelist and a defender of human and women’s rights. She never made concessions in her continuous struggle for the liberation of women. Her only weapons were pen and paper. Her jailor would consider that finding pens and paper with her in the cell is more dangerous than weapons. She lit up the dark paths and didn’t close her eyes in a world that only accepts women who close their eyes. Her daughter described her as the woman who did not close her eyes although she was attacked and door were closed in front of her. On the contrary, the sparkle of her eyes remained granting her courage and consistency. Youssef Edris even described her as follows: “Nawal is a flaming piece of the sun that broke away from it. I don’t think she will ever go back.”

The late Nawal El-Saadawi led a long struggle confronting difficult situations and challenges. She faced all this with extraordinary courage for several decades. She started struggle in the 1950s and the main topic of her struggle was women’s rights. So, she became a symbol of feminism in the world. Because of her sharp words, confident language, frank writing and direct collision with issues of religion, sex and politics. Many of her words became references and ideals like her famous sentence (I say the truth.. The truth is savage and dangerous.”

Nawal El-Saadawi graduated from the Faculty of Medicine of Cairo University in 1955. She was a physician. Then, she became a psychiatrist. She didn’t think of breaking rules or regulations but rather to say the truth that others fear. She always told women to be their own heroines. This is one of the sentences that embrace the meaning of revolution and rebellion. Nawal El-Saadawi understood in an early period of time that “writing is a struggle in itself.” The Canadian novelist Margret Atwood said about her that she spoke with her own style the unspeakable. So, she was a pioneer because she clearly realized the facts of her life and the lives of other women. 

In this context, she published a book in 1971 titled “Women and Sex”. She confronted all forms of violence against women like FGM and practices taking place in rural communities for checking the virginity of young women. This book became the founding document of the second feminist wave. Because of the huge impact of this book on political activism, she was fired from her job at the Ministry of Health. This also cost her her position as an editor-in-chief of the Health Magazine and as an assistant secretary of the Doctors’ Syndicate. In 1977, she published her book “The Naked Face of Arab Women” in which she documented her experience and the crimes of sexual assault and honour crimes she witnessed during her work as a doctor in one of the villages of Egypt. The book caused rage. Critics accused her of strengthening stereotypes of Arab women. However, she didn’t stop expressing her opinion. This led to her imprisonment in September 1981 among a campaign of arrests of dissentients opposing the political regime at the time. Then, she was released. But her activities were scrutinized and her books banned. On the other hand, she received several honorary degrees from various universities around the world. In 2020, the Time magazine chose her among the 100 most influential women, and featured her photo on its cover. Because of her writings and opinions, several lawsuits were filed against her by sexist people. Her name was enlisted in the so-called death lists of Islamist groups. This led her to leave Egypt in 1988. She accepted offers to teach in Duke University, the African languages Department in North Carolina, and Washington University. She held lots of distinguished positions in academia; for example Harvard, Yale University, Columbia University, Sorbonne University, George Town University, Florida State University, and California University. She returned to Egypt in 1996. 

In this context, she established the Arab Woman Solidarity Association in 1982. She also helped in the establishment of the Arab Foundation of Human Rights. She also received three honorary doctorate degrees from three continents. In 2004, she received the North-South Prize of the Council of Europe. In 2005, she won the Inana International Prize in Belgium. In 2012, the International Peace Bureau in Switzerland awarded her the Seán MacBride Peace Prize.

Moreover, she held several posts like the General Manager of the Health Education Department at the Ministry of Health in Cairo, the General Secretary of the Doctors’ Syndicate in Cairo. She also worked as a doctor in the University Hospital. She was also a member in the Supreme Council for Social Sciences and Arts in Cairo. She established the Health Education Association and an association for Egyptian women writers. She worked for a while as an editor-in-chief of the Health Magazine in Cairo and an editor in the Association’s Magazine. 

In this journey full of struggles, she published forty books that were translated to more than twenty languages. The main idea of her writings was linking the liberation of women and humans on one hand to the liberation of homeland on the other hand in cultural, social and political aspects. She used to say that the honor of male or female humans is honesty of thinking, feeling and acts. The honorable human is the one that does not lead a double faced life one in secrecy and the other in public. The mature person is the only one capable of wanting and seeking freedom without fear. Freedom frightens immature and dependent persons. 

So, the writer and fighter Nawal El-Saadawi left us after discussing taboos and tackling critical topics through which she shed light on the suffering of women. So, she paved the way and left behind her ideas and militant positions that will remain an established intellectual and innovative legacy that encourages all women and girls. So, we salute and appreciate the woman who taught us to revolt against all forms of oppression.

The Permanent Conference for Working Women

23 March 2021 


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