Activist Writers: Zenia by Nawal El Saadawi

Nawal El Saadawi is an Egyptian feminist writer, anti-female genital mutilation (FMG) activist and medical doctor. She is popular in the literary world for her writings on feminism, religion, FMG amongst others. I became familiar with Nawal El Saadawi’s works while writing an article on African feminists for The Huffington Post. Since then I have read two of her books and  Zenia is one of them.  The book Zeina is about Boudour a professor who gives away her child born out of wedlock. While the book focuses on various themes including female repression and oppression, religion, sex among others, the theme of religion resonated with me.  This is borne out of my belief that religion is often used as a tool to suppress women. I particularly love how Nawal El Saadawi questions religion and its role in the oppression of women.

Personally, I think the Holy Books have often been misquoted and modified by the male folk to suit their dominative tendencies. The result of this is men who justify their abuse of women with religious references such as “a wife should be submissive to her husband. (Sigh). Hello, submissive does not translate to heads bowed and lips closed. Nawal also points out how women are made to feel less than they are. Here’s a section I had to highlight.

“The emir issued a ruling that women’s voices were a source of shame. Every part of their bodies, in fact was a shame, including the head, the seat of thought and intellect.”

I call this bullying and it is sadly a part of the African society. Rather sad how some men make themselves the sole administrator of the lives of their sisters, wives, daughters e.t.c. From how many children we can have to how we think.  (I’ll save my rant on masculine tendencies for another day). In all, Zeina is a thought provoking book. It touches on sensitive issues that have been accepted and never questioned such as religion. While some may say she is a crying feminist, Nawal El Saadawi is a rather courageous woman for writing the truth. I recommend Zenia to anyone who wants a glimpse of what it is like to live as a woman in a society filled with religion and hypocrisy.Below are a few interesting facts about Nawal El Saadawi.

  • Her book Women and Sex which was published in 1972 and has been said to be a foundational text for the second wave of feminism.
  • Nawal was dismissed from the Ministry of Health for her book Women and Sex.
  • She was imprisoned for her views which were seen as controversial. Her experience in prison formed the basis for her book “Memoirs From The Women’s Prison.”
  • She is the founder of the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association.

Read any of Nawal’s books? What do you think about her writing? What do you think about writing as a tool for activism?