The very fair lady you see in this portrait is Egypt’s leading suffragette who, following multiple struggles and activism in the 40’s and 50’s, brought Egypt’s women the right to vote. Only to be shunned from public life and any facit of collective memory at the directive of president Nasser following her hunger strike against his dictatorial rule.
After she was dismissed from the feminist union she founded and led for many years, and after her magazine along with any public appearance were banned by a political order, Shafik entered a period of seclusion for 18 years. This eventually resulted in her suicide from her Zamalek apartment in 1975 leaving behind a plethora of unpublished memoirs and a whole history of proud activism that waited to be resurrected once again.
The only biographical study of her life was admirably conducted by AUC anthropology professor Cynthia Nelson and was published in 1996.
The biography is a must-have for anyone interested in the history of Egypt’s women movement and such a crucial part of Egypt’s modern history.
Here are some of her quotes
“No one will deliver freedom to the woman, except the woman herself. I decided to fight till the last drop of blood to break the chains shackling the women of my country in the invisible prison in which they continued to live; a prison, which being invisible, was all the more oppressive”
“They are assembled a few steps away from us. I propose we go there, strong in the knowledge of our rights, and tell the deputies and senators that their assemblies are illegal so long as our representatives are excluded, that the Egyptian parliament cannot be a true reflection of the entire nation until women are admitted. Let’s go and give it to them straight. Let’s go and demand our rights. Forward to the parliament ! “- Shortly before she led over 1000 women to storm the Egyptian parliament demanding political rights for women
“I’m calling upon the women of Egypt to fall into the line of battle and to carry guns in order to save their nation from its enemies… turn the wheel of history, and take your place at the head of the troops doing your utmost for the sake of Egypt” – from her article in Bent Al Nil magazine agitating against the British occupation