While not every religion of the world oppresses women, many have practices and traditions that do. One such practice that is common in Islamic lands, such as Egypt, is female circumcision. Of course, that is the nice name for it and doesn’t really describe the practice properly. It is actually female genital mutilation, and over 140 million women worldwide have been victims of this painful, and dangerous, act. One such victim, Nawal El Saadawi from Egypt, has spent decades of her life trying to protect other women from this practice.
Her efforts have paid off legislatively speaking. Female genital mutilation became illegal in Egypt as of 2008. But that doesn’t mean that some religiously devoted individuals aren’t practicing it in secret. Some girls are sent to other countries under the guise of studying abroad, only to find out that they are being sent to a place where female circumcision is still legal. There are many other nations where the practice is not yet banned. That’s why Nawal El Saadawi is continuing to speak out.
Her outspokenness against the role that religion has played in many of the practices and traditions that oppress women has earned her numerous death threats over the years. In fact, she had to flee to the United States 1988 after religious extremists threatened her and political persecution increased.
A prolific author, Nawal El Saadawi has written nearly 50 books that deal with the issues women face in Egypt. In 1972, she lost a prominent position in the medical community due to a book that revealed numerous atrocities being allow to continue. She even spent some time in jail over the controversial commentary on the state of women in Egypt.
Prostitution and domestic violence are two other controversial topics that the activist frequently comments on in her work. She also tries to make the world aware of the plight of child brides, which is still a practice in some lands, with girls as young as 10 being sold as marriage mates. The practice is illegal in most places and recognized as morally wrong, however, with a strong economic downturn, some families still turn to this solution for quick income.
Because of the role that religion has played in the oppression of women in Egypt and other lands, Nawal El Saadawi has been campaigning for the end of religious instruction in Egyptian schools since 2011.
Though now in her eighties, Nawal El Saadawi is determined to keep up the fight as long as she has breath in her body. A lifetime of dedication to helping women worldwide is certainly something to commend as we reflect on International Women’s Day and the women who have inspired change around the world.