Harem Years The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist 1879-1924 by Huda Shaarawi
“Of all the subjects, Arabic was my favorite. One day when I asked the teacher why I was unable to to read the Koran without making a mistake he said, ‘Because you have not learned the rules of grammar.’ I pressed him, ‘will I be able to read perfectly once I have done so?’ When he said yes I asked him to teach me. The next day, when he arrived carrying an Arabic grammar under his arm, Said Agha demanded arrogantly, ‘What is that?’ to which he responded, ‘The book Mistress Nur al-Huda has requested in order to learn grammar.’ The eunuch contemptuously ordered, ‘Take back your book Sayyidna Shaikh. The young lady has no need of grammar as she will not become a judge!’ I became depressed and began to neglect my studies, hating being a girl because it kept me from the education I sought. Later, being a female became a barrier between me and the freedom for which I yearned. The memory and anguish of this remain sharp to this day.” ーHuda Shaarawi, Herem Years, The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist
Harem Years is a recollection of Huda Shaarawi childhood and early adult life. She was born and raised in a prosperous family in Cairo. As an upper-class woman, she was required to live in secluded apartments and veil her face in public. Although she received an education in the harem, she became frustrated when she realized she was being denied the same education as her brother and the freedom that she deeply yearned for. Then she was forced to mary at age 13 with her cousin, 40 years her senior. Nonetheless, Shaarawi led a remarkable life and later became a feminist pioneer who influenced not only women in Egypt but throughout the Arab world.
In her early adult life, Shaarawi began her journey into activism when she helped create the first organization operated by Egyptian women to help and support underprivileged women and children and later she founded the Union of Educated Egyptian Women, probably one of the first school where women could go out of harem and study.
Although, this memoir was only the retrospection of Shaarawi childhood, her family and her early years as an activist. It showed the glimpse of Shaarawi fundamental struggles as a young girl that shaped her feminist outlook. But, this book doesn’t cover the biggest part of her roles as a feminist pioneer when she helped organize the first and largest anti-colonial women’s demonstration, the “March of Veiled Women,” in the streets of Cairo and other demonstartion and negotiation for women open engagement in Egypt’s nationalist movement which marked a turning point in the country’s history. I am eying on Casting off the Veil: The Life of Huda Shaarawi, Egypt’s First Feminist by Sania Sharawi Lanfranchi which could further my study about the remarkable Huda Shaarawi, The Women Pioneers.