Known for Being
The first woman to remove her veil in a public place.
A pioneering Egyptian feminist leader, nationalist, and founder of the Egyptian Feminist Union.
Huda Sha'rawi was an Egyptian feminist and nationalist who is considered the founder of the women’s movement in Egypt and established numerous organizations dedicated to women’s rights. As an upper-class female, Huda Sharawi grew up in the harem system, in which women were confined to secluded apartments within the home and wore face veils when going outside.
In 1908 Sha'rawi helped found the first secular philanthropic organization operated by Egyptian women, a medical dispensary for underprivileged women and children. She and her husband were also strong supporters of the cause of Egyptian independence from Great Britain, as part of the Wafd Party. She went on to found and serve as president of the Wafdist Women’s Central Committee in 1920. Egyptian women’s open participation in the nationalist movement marked a turning point in Egyptian society; never before had so many women publicly engaged in political activism.
In early 1923 she founded the Egyptian Feminist Union, which sought women's suffrage, reforms to personal status laws, and increased educational opportunities for girls and women. In March of that year, she performed the act of protest for which she is best remembered: while returning home from a conference of the International Women Suffrage Alliance in Rome, she removed her face veil in a Cairo train station, causing a commotion.
Sha'rawi remained president of the Egyptian Feminist Union for the rest of her life and became the founding president of the Arab Feminist Union in 1945. Under her leadership, the Egyptian Feminist Union launched the magazine L’Égyptienne (later Al-Misriyyah) in 1925, and the Arab Feminist Union launched Al-Marʾah al-Arabiyyah in 1946. Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist (1986) is her memoir of growing up in a Cairo harem.
Last modified: 01/10/2019