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Kwani? Litfest: “Woman of Steel” Nawal El Saadawi Speaks Out Against Injustice

Last month, Joseph Ngunjiri attended a talk in Nairobi given by acclaimed Egyptian author Nawal El Saadawi, who was a guest of the 2012 Kwani? Litfest. This feminist and writer who was imprisoned by Anwar Sadat, has written over 45 novels, plays and short story collections, and is still an activist at the age of 81, revealed many details of her life during the discussion. Ngunjiri wrote an article for Kenya’s Standard on what she had to say.

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El Saadawi spoke of how “a writer should write about injustices, oppression and discrimination”. One of the world’s fiercest critics of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), she has dedicated her life fighting the practice, after undergoing it herself at a very young age. A trained physician, she speaks out against the injustices still done to women, even though a 2008 law banned FGM in Egypt. She was also at Tahrir Square during the Egyptian Uprising in 2011. Despite her advanced age, Joseph Ngunjiri describes her as “a woman of steel”.

The first thing you notice about Nawal El Saadawi is the shock of white hair on her head. Then you remember that she is Arab. Shouldn’t she be veiled? Her outwardly appearance is that of a frail old woman.

But looks can be deceiving. Beyond the softly, grandmotherly look lies a woman of steel, a radicalised feminist who will not embrace a tradition just because it is culturally and religiously acceptable. Yes, this 81-year-old woman has given successive regimes in Egypt sleepless nights. Anwar Sadat even had her arrested and imprisoned for publicly criticising his policies.

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Image courtesy Monde-Arabe Arte


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