Magazine article New Internationalist

Paying the Price of Freedom [Profile]

Magazine article New Internationalist

Paying the Price of Freedom [Profile]

Article excerpt

NAWAL EL SAADAWI's determination to chart her own course - whether as a doctor, political theorist, activist or internationally acclaimed author - started early. As a ten-year-old living in rural Egypt she committed her first rebellion. She refused to get married. 'This was the first challenge and when I succeeded it gave me a lot of strength.'

This strength and her refusal to accept the limitations imposed by class, colonialism, patriarchy and religion led her to qualify as a doctor and then to become Director of Public Health.

She then realized, as she says in her latest book, that 'writing was a stronger weapon than medicine in the fight against poverty and ignorance'. So she wrote. And wrote. Poems, short stories, novels, plays. 'I used to write about love,' she says. 'Then I discovered the relation between love and politics. Between poverty and politics. Between sex and politics. I realized that the political regime imposed the will of men upon women and imposed poverty and slavery upon the poor and destitute.' Specifically, she started writing and speaking about the links between women's oppression and the liberation of her country.

For this she lost her job - and several subsequent ones - and was imprisoned. Her books were confiscated and her work censored.

She has called this, 'Paying the price of freedom'. As women are likely to be exploited anyway, she points out optimistically: 'It is better to pay and be free than to pay and be oppressed.' But the price has been high; going on to include a five-year period of exile and being put on a 'death list'.

So where has she found the strength to carry on? 'Aaah.' Her eyes sparkle. 'It's a decision, unconscious from childhood.' She makes this sound the most natural statement in the world. Her inspiration came through the female side of her family, from her mother and grandmother. She calls it 'absorbing their ambitions', which were cut short by lack of schooling and poverty. She also inherited her father's opposition to colonialism. In addition, 'being a female, I felt the discrimination between me and my brother'. Her course was set.

Nawal became a passionate advocate for women's rights. She believes that women are oppressed all over the world. 'Women are the first target because we are politically weak and because our status in religions is inferior.'

She is full of hope for the future. …

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