Hanine El Mir
The opening panel on the second day of KIP’s multidisciplinary conference was a conversation with Egyptian feminist writer and activist Nawal El Saadawi, MD.
Saadawi is originally a medical doctor but has found herself merging her practice with her life experiences to become a feminist writer. She is one of the pioneering feminists in the Arab world and is directly responsible for a recent law that makes female circumcision in Egypt illegal.
She now writes both fiction and nonfiction pieces. All her writings are originally in Arabic but most of them are later translated into various languages.
Despite her residing and writing in Egypt, most of her books were published through Beirut-based publishing houses.
Through her writings, Saadawi aims to explore society’s obsession with virginity, hymens and female genital mutilation.
“FGM is very damaging to women […] We have to discuss why patriarchy wanted to get rid of the clitoris while you can teach values that can replace FGM,” Saadawi said.
During the conversation, which was hosted with the help of the Department of Arabic and Near Eastern Languages, Saadawi explained that society is too focused on what a woman does with her body in terms of sexuality.
“The problem is sexuality, always, whenever we speak about women. There’s no problem in men’s sexuality and various sexual activities. They don’t have a hymen,” Saadawi expressed. She added that focusing on hymens doesn’t stop girls from having sex. Everybody has sex. It simply pushes them toward hymen repair surgeries.
One of the questions she was asked was, “What are your current views on covering?” in which she answered with a question as well, “Why women are veiled and men are not veiled? The veil hides the woman from the man, but the man is not hiding.”
Saadawi is openly not religious, but made a bold statement on Saturday when she announced, “The veil and female circumcision and all types of oppression of women have nothing to do with any religion. Islam or Christianity, or even Judaism.”
She added that if you study history and religion carefully, you’ll realize that it is barely mentioned. One might confuse these practices with religious practices because, according to her, these three monolithic religions started at a time of slavery, class oppression, and patriarchal oppression.
She elaborated that in religion, “it was not only women who were condemned” by giving the example of Eve and Adam, who were both punished.
Saadawi is known for her leftist feminist politics. When she was invited to speak in front of potential students at a reputable university, she was later denied the job and told she was too dangerous, after signing the contract with the department of literature.
Someone from the audience asked Saadawi about her thoughts on homosexuality. She clarified that by asking this, we’re going back to a person’s sexuality again.
“What’s it to do with me what someone’s sexuality is? What does it have to do with people what my sexuality is,” Saadawi expressed.
Sexuality should be liberated from society’s obsession with it, she added.
We need to separate women from their sexualities and sexual lives when addressing them.
“Women are considered just a body, or a sex organ, or a sex commodity, or anything related to sex,” Saadawi noted.