Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the 141st birthday of an Egyptian woman who left an evident mark in the world and fought against the system when it was uncommon for women to even raise their voices. This woman is Huda Shaarawi; her birth name was Nour Al-Huda Mohamed Sultan Shaarawi. She was one of the most prominent Egyptian feminists of 20th century Egypt, an anti-colonial activist, and the founder of Egypt’s first nationwide feminist movement, the Egyptian Feminist Union.
Shaarawi is mostly famous for her popular stand when she publicly removed her veil as an act of defiance towards the status quo at Cairo’s train station in 1923. Back then, the face veil was not a religious symbol, it was a cultural and social obligation. Nevertheless, there were many other proud moments in her life.
As a child, she was born into Egypt’s harem system, which was a secluded area where women were separated from men. Unlike most women in harems, she received an education, however, she was frustrated at not being allowed into a school education like her brother. “I became depressed and began to neglect my studies, hating being a girl because it kept me from the education I sought. Later, being a female became a barrier between me and the freedom for which I yearned,” wrote Shaarawi in her memoire ‘The Harem Years’.
She was forced into marriage at the age of 13 to her older cousin who was 40 years her senior. As an adult, she desperately fought to change the official age of marriage for girls to 16. She co-founded the first secular philanthropic organization operated by Egyptian women, organized lectures for women, opened a school for girls, campaigned for women to have a higher education, and founded the Intellectual Association of Egyptian Women.
Shaarawi also engaged in political activism, contributing to the Egyptian revolution. In 1919, she organized and led the first female street demonstration against British colonialism in Egypt, and later founded the Wafdist Women’s Central Committee, a turning point in Egypt as it was uncommon for women to publicly engage in politics.
Shaarawi was influential across the Arab world, not just in Egypt. In 1944, she formed the Arab Feminist Union, to promote Arab nationalism while supporting and achieving gender equality.
So here’s to all the brave and inspiring women who fought and contributed to shaping the way Egyptian women live today.