Doria Shafik

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Doria Shafiq
درية شفيق
Doria Shafik.jpg
Born 14 December 1908
Tanta, Egypt
Died 20 September 1975(1975-09-20) (aged 66)
Cairo
Occupation author, feminist, revolutionary, women's rights activist

Doria Shafik (December 14, 1908 – September 20, 1975) was a feminist, philosopher, poet and editor, and one of the principle leaders of the women's liberation movemement in Egypt as of the mid 1940s. As a direct result of her efforts, Egyptian women were granted the right to vote by the Egyptian constitution.

She was born in Tanta, in the Nile delta and studied in a French mission school. At sixteen she became the youngest Egyptian to earn the French Baccalaureate degreee. At nieneteen she was awarded a scholarship by the Egyptian Ministry of Education to study at the Sorbonne University in Paris. She also studied for a PhD in philosophy at the Sorbonne. She wrote two thesis, one refuting the merely utilitarian ends generally associated with Ancient Egyptian art, and the second, arguing that Islam amply recognised women's equal rights. She was awarded her PhD (Doctorat d'Etat) with high qualifications (Mention Tres Honorable).

While in Paris, Shafik married Nour Al-Din Ragai, a law student who was also on scholarship and working on his PhD.

Upon her return from France to Egypt in 1940, Shafik hoped to contribute to the education of her country's youth, but the dean of the Faculty of Literature of Cairo University denied her a teaching position on the pretext that she was "too modern."

In 1945, Princess Chevicar, (the first wife of Egypt's then former King Fuad I offered Shafik the position of editor-in-chief of La Femme Nouvelle, a French cultural and literary magazine addressing the country's elite. Shafik accepted the position, and with Chevicar's death in 1947, took complete responsibility for the magazine including its financing. Under her direction La Femme Nouvelle gained regional status. Also in 1945, Shafik decided to publish an Arabic magazine (Bint Al-Nil or Daughter of The Nile) intended to educate Egyptian women and to help them to have the most effective role possible within their family and their society. The first number came out in November 1945 and was almost immediately sold out.

In 1948 Shafik created the Bint Al-Nil Union, to help solve women's primordial social problems and to ensure their inclusion in their country's policies. The union also worked to eradicate illiteracy by setting up centres for that purpose throughout the country, set up an employment office and a cafeteria for working women.

Storming Parliament[edit]

In February 1951, she managed to secretly bring together 1500 women from Egypt's two leading feminist groupings (Bint Al-Nil and the Egyptian Feminist Union) and organized a march on and break into parliament to present the male parliamentarians gathered there with a series of demands mainly related to women's socioeconomic rights. In spite of receiving promises from the President of the Senate, women's rights experience no improvement thereafter.

Struggle against occupation[edit]

In 1951, she decided to contribute to efforts towards ridding Egypt from British occupation by creating the first female military unity which brought together 2000 women, prepared them for the front and to carry out essential nursing activities.

Bint Al-Nil Party[edit]

After the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, Shafik requests from the government recognition of Bint Al-Nil as a political party, and Shafik as its president, which the government does accept to do.

First hunger strike[edit]

In 1954 Shafik undertakes an eight-day hunger strike at the press syndicate, in protest over the creation of a constitutional committee with no women on it. She ends her strike upon receiving a written statement that President Naguib committed to a constitution that respected the rights of women.

Trip around the world[edit]

As a result of the interest sparked by her hunger strike, Shafik is invited to lecture on the Egyptian woman in Asia, Europe and the United States. She travels to Italy, England, France, the United States, Japan, Pakistan, Ceylon and India.

Right to vote[edit]

As a result of Shafik's efforts women are granted the right to vote under the constitution of 1956 with the condition however that they be literate which was not a prerequisite for male voting.

Second hunger strike[edit]

In 1957 Shafik undertakes a second hunger strike in the Indian embassy, in protest over President Gamal Abdel Nasser's dictatorial regime. As a result she is put under house arrest by Nasser, her name is banned from the press and her magazines from circulation.

Literary work[edit]

In addition to her magazines, Shafik wrote a novel L'Esclave Sultane, several volumes of poetry published by Pierre Fanlac, her own memoirs, and translated the Koran into English and French.

Seclusion and death[edit]

Following her house arrest Shafik led a solitary life, even when her movement was no longer restricted. She spent her last years reading, writing and mainly in the company of her daughters and grandchildren. She came to her death by falling from her balcony in 1975.

Personal life[edit]

Shafik married Nour Al-Din Ragai in Paris in 1937. He would go on to become a prominent lawyer in Egypt and to support all of her efforts. They were together for 31 years (till 1968 when they divorced) and had two daughters, Aziza and Jehane. She is survived by them and by her four grandchildren.

References[edit]

  • Asunción Oliva Portoles, Recuperación de una voz olvidada, Huerga y Fierro editores, Madrid 2010. ISBN 9788483748237
  • Cynthia Nelson, Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist: A woman Apart, University Press of Florida, Gainesville (EE.UU.) 1996. ISBN 9780813014555