Nawal El Saadawi, Pioneering Egyptian Feminist Writer, Passes Away At 89

Nawal El Saadawi, Woman At Point Zero

Nawal El Saadawi, renowned Egyptian author and feminist champion, passed away Sunday aged 89 after battling health problems. The demise of Saadawi is being mourned as an irreparable loss, owing to the magnificent years of change she ushered in in Egypt during her time alive.

Nicknamed ‘Simone de Beauvoir of the Arab world,’ Saadawi’s credentials as a pioneering women’s rights activist preceded her. She was responsible for leading significant change towards female emancipation in her country. But she was more than a writer and spokesperson for equal rights. Saadawi was a skilled physician, psychiatrist and professor too.

Remembering Nawal El Saadawi

Born in the village of Kafr Tahla in Egypt, Nawal El Saadawi was brought up by parents who believed in their daughter to have individuality, education and liberation. After studying and graduating with a degree in medicine, Saadawi’s venture into real-world practice brought her face-to-face with the glaring lapses, injustices, and inadequacies in women’s healthcare, both physical and psychological, in the conservative, patriarchal Egyptian society.

As she grew in prominence with her now-iconic 1972 feminist book Woman and Sex, public advocacy for women’s welfare in Islam, and a magazine named Confrontation in 1981, Saadawi began being viewed as a national controversial figure. She was shunned from her seats of power, decried by large sections of the public, targeted with death threats by Islam extremists, and ultimately imprisoned by the President of Egypt Anwar Sadat.

“Danger has been a part of my life ever since I picked up a pen and wrote. Nothing is more perilous than truth in a world that lies”: Nawal El Saadawi

But it did not deter Saadawi from the path of a fair vision she had set out upon. One of the most notable checkpoints on that road was her fight against female genital mutilation.

Having gone through that experience herself as a young girl and reacting to the death of 12-year-old Bedour Shaker as a result of FGM in 2007, Saadawi’s voice was loud in challenging the inaction that allowed the atrocities. It led to a law change in 2008 that banned FGM practices in Egypt.

“The oppression of women is historical. We have to liberate women economically, socially, psychologically, physically, religiously”: Nawal El Saadawi

Saadawi is credited with founding the social change groups like the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association and Health Education Association and the Egyptian Women Writers’ Association. She has several international honours to her name and in her country, also served in central ministries in key roles related to health and education.

Condolences are pouring in for Saadawi on social media, as women pay tributes to their feminist role model.