Middle-Eastern feminism expert speaks on campus

Image Courtesy of: Kent Contemporary Discussions Society

The University of Kent welcomed the feminist and Nottingham Trent University lecturer Hind El-Hinnawy to campus.

The lecturer, who has written on women’s rights and criminal justice issues in Egypt and the Middle East, came to speak at a talk organized by the Contemporary Discussions Society.

She said: “The reaction I got after the talk and the many people who came to thank me for it before I left made me feel that it was really worth doing this talk.”

“I do believe that what I revealed inspired the audience to think and reflect."

The talk

The talk began with an overview of misogyny in the Middle East.

Hind said: “Secular women like myself, face two options: I can abide, conform, and live whatever manner I want to live in, but in secret.

"Or you bare the punishment."

She then went on to talk about her icons in Middle Eastern feminism.

She said: "For kick-ass feminist icons, the Arab Muslim world has got a long history."

She highlighted feminists such as Huda Shaarawi, May Ziadeh, and Nawal El Saadawi - widely called the Simone De Beauvoir of the East.

Hind also highlighted Doreya Shafik, who organised a demonstration of around 1,500 women in front of Parliament in Egypt to grant women the right to vote.

She then moved onto describing her own experiences as a feminist in the Middle East.

She said: "Growing up in the Middle East, I experienced conflict with my parents, extended family friends, and the wider society over their obsession of what's covering my head and what's between my legs.

"My endless battles resulted frustration with my own society and my place - as a woman - within it."

Hind then explained how the Middle East turned towards extreme religious views post-2000.

She added: "Secular, liberal women like myself became more and more vilified.

"The traditional versus the 'Western', became concerned with the 'Islamic' versus the 'anti-Islamic.'"

Her story

Hind made headlines in her home country of Egypt in 2005, when she decided to carry the child of a famous actor in the country and file a paternity suit against him.

She argued in court that the two had an Urfi Marriage, a Sunni Islamic practice that allows two people to be married in private.

Egypt has very strict conventions around virginity and sex before marriage, with heavy restrictions on women’s rights in the country.

In the country, only men can register a child's birth, meaning thousands of children born to single-mothers have no legal rights and are not even seen as citizens.

This leads most women in the country to immediately seek an abortion, a hymen repair, and then a quick marriage to a new suitor.

Many women who can't afford the expensive abortion and hymen repair can even be killed by more conservative family members of familial shame.

Her case highlighted the need for progressive change in Egyptian civil rights and even created a legal precedent in the country to allow for the use of a DNA test in court to establish if the actor, 24-year-old Ahmed El-Fishawy, was the father.

She said: "I discovered the relation between the liberation of women and the liberation of the country from a corrupt regime and a rising Islamist ideology."

Her case had a widespread impact on Egyptian politics and led to further women speaking out.

Speaking to the New York Times, she said: “I’m trying to say to other people, not only girls, to try to have the courage to be responsible for what you do.”

Since then, she undertook a PhD in Women's Activism at the University of Kent, which she completed last year.

The talk also included a talk by a third-year politics student, Aya Raphael.

She gave a talk on her experiences studying and working with other women from the Middle East.

She focused on how misogyny has taken form in the Middle East in various ways through stories of people she knew.

Closing remarks

Hind closed the talk by discussing the difficulties still facing women in the Middle East.

She said: "I had hopes that my high-profile case will inspire women to dare to be who they choose to be.

"But not all women can endure such life. Some with inner vulnerabilities could be easy targets to men who sense this fragility."

She added: "We need to rid ourselves of the internalised misogyny which we have been conditioned to carry since childhood."

Hind concluded the only way to push feminism in the Middle East forward is if everyone works for the good of the collective, and not for their own personal interests or gains.

She finished her talk by saying: "Don't accept any more crumbs, we deserve full equality."

The Kent Contemporary Discussions Society have two more lectures in the coming weeks on current affairs and politics, which can be found on their Facebook page.

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