Egyptian Feminist Union

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EGYPTIAN FEMINIST UNION

The first formal, self-consciously feminist organization in Egypt, al-Ittihad al-nisaʾi al-misri (in English, the Egyptian Feminist Union, or EFU).

The Egyptian Feminist Union was founded in Cairo on 16 March 1923 by a small group of women from elite families who had been active in the struggle for independence from British occupation. The group originally had aligned itself with the Wafd movement and was called the Wafdist Women's Central Committee (founded 1919). Bringing together a larger group of women, the EFU worked for Egyptian nationalist aims while opposing women's subordinate status in the Wafd Party and focusing on women's objectives for their own lives. From the start, its leader, Huda al-Shaʿrawi, made connections with international feminist organizations, notably the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA); in May 1923, the EFU sent a delegation to the IWSA's Rome meeting, and the presence of Egyptian feminists received notice in Egypt's pressas did a public act of unveiling by Shaʿrawi and fellow delegate Sayza Nabarawi in the Cairo train station upon their return from Rome.

The EFU's agenda ranged from demands for political rightsthe EFU picketed the opening session of the Egyptian parliament in 1924 after the new constitution had failed to grant women the right to voteto social activism, carrying on the philanthropic work of earlier generations of women. In its second year of existence, the EFU started a dispensary for women and a program to train girls in handicraft production; when new headquarters on Cairo's Qasr al-Ayni street were ready in 1932, these became part of a professional and domestic school, and throughout the decade other dispensaries and training programs were founded outside the capital. The EFU founded two journals, the French-language L'Egyptienne (19251940) and the Arabic-language Al-Misriyya (19371940), through which it outlined its demands for legal reform in personal status law, equal education for girls, and the right for women to enter university and have access to professional training and positions. Careful to emphasize Egypt's Islamic character and pharaonic past, Shaʿrawi, the EFU's leader until her death in 1947, steered a careful path between her European contacts and the nationalists, both liberal and conservative, at home, while increasingly turning to regional Arab concerns. Although the EFU encompassed a range of feminist perspectives, it was not the only Egyptian organization of the time working to advance women's rights.

See also Arab Feminist Union; Gender: Gender and Education; Gender: Gender and Law; Gender: Gender and Politics; Wafd; Wafdist Women's Central Committee.

Bibliography

Al-Ali, Nadje. Secularism, Gender, and the State in the Middle East: The Egyptian Women's Movement. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Badran, Margot. Feminists, Islam, and Nation: Gender and the Making of Modern Egypt. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

marilyn booth

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