In the summer of 1937 in Egypt, a young six old girl was held down by four women who forced a gruesome surgery, removing her clitoris. As Nawal El Saadawi laid in her pool of blood she knew that day that her life would never be the same. As the daya (midwife) stayed with her until she healed, El Saadawi she realized that her scars would go much deeper than the eyes could see. A graduate of Cairo University’s School of Medicine, she was able to observe the social-cultural determinants of women’s physical and psychological health, and recognized the role that oppressive cultural and societal practices played in promoting poor women’s health.
For over sixty years, El Saadawi has actively campaigned to stop the inhumane treatment of women and girls through the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). According to a recent UNICEF publication more than 130 million girls and women have experienced FGM in more than 29 countries in Africa. The effects of FGM can range from prolonged bleeding to infertility to even death. Though the practice has persisted for many years, with the help of El Saadawi who is outspoken with education and multilateral organizations such as UNICEF, the numbers can be reversed, along with eradicating the mindset that females are dirty. Thankfully, El Saadawi was able to protect her daughter from the practice.
For the majority of El Saadawi’s career, she has lectured on the practices of FGM and its oppression towards women. “Life is very hard. The only people who really live are those who are harder than life itself.” These are certainly insightful words from a woman who has truly proven to be a wonder-woman.
At the age of 84, El Sadaawi is still an outspoken Egyptian activist, feminist, and writer. The former physician is still considered radical as she graceful. In 1972, “Women and Sex” her first nonfiction book, criticized the practice of FGM and brought major attention to the issue, which caused her to lose a pivotal role as a director with the Egyptian Ministry of Health. As she continued to lecture about the mutilation practice, El Sadaawi also spoke about other controversial topics such as prostitution, domestic violence, and women’s’ rights. Her lectures led to her imprisonment for three months, as she was charged with crimes against the state. Feeling empowered to document her journey, El Saadawi began to write late at night, using an eyebrow pencil and a roll of toilet paper. These writings became her next novel “ Memoirs From The Women’s Prison”. After fleeing to the U.S., El Saadawi still struggles to be heard in her native Egypt. From outspoken interviews to her autobiography “A Daughter of Isis”, El Sadaawi is a force that explains the struggles of women in regards to the ways they are largely perceived by society.
Today, she speaks passionately as an advocate for women’s rights and still writes to change the views. She speaks her view of the protagonist in “Women at Point Zero” who struggles to survive poverty while facing execution for political crimes. The wounds of the physical assault healed but the pain of the freedom lost will never be forgotten; her fight against the oppression for female mutilation and male circumcision also extends beyond a mere recognition of policy “We have a law in 2008 to prohibit female mutilation but you cannot eradicate it by a law only.”