Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Obituary: Woman of substance

Zeinab Radwan: 1943-2013

Al-Ahram Weekly

A leading voice in defending women’s rights strictly from the perspective of Islamic law, the philosopher and parliamentarian Zeinab Radwan passed away this week after a long illness.

A professor of Islamic philosophy and Sharia law and a parliamentarian who agreed at a late stage of her life to join the now-dissolved National Democratic Party (NDP) in what she thought was a step towards taking the call for gender equality into the heart of the legislative process, Radwan was best known for her firm support — “truly Islamic” she always argued — for eliminating the discriminatory family status laws that have for years left women in a disadvantaged position in society.

Talking in no uncertain terms and not being willing to suffer fools gladly, Radwan spoke out loud and clear against reactionary views that she thought aimed to water down attempts to eliminate many forms of violence against women and girls, including child marriage and female genital mutilation.

Radwan was a parliamentarian who was hard to match in Islamic, and, some would argue, legal debate, and she was behind several of the women’s rights bills proposed during the 2005 and 2010 parliaments. The latter assembly was very short-lived, owing to the beginning of the 25 January Revolution just a few weeks after it met.

Radwan’s work in favour of women’s rights started well before her membership of the NDP. From the late 1980s onwards, she wrote about and advocated for what she always said was Islamic egalitarianism. “We are not talking about equality in the Western sense, but we are talking about egalitarianism as prescribed by the Holy Quran,” she told Al-Ahram Weekly in an interview ahead of the 1995 Women’s Summit in Beijing.

As a member of the National Council for Women, Radwan was also a leading voice in promoting the role of the state to act to protect women’s rights, and she always argued that there was an additional shame in insulting women in the name of Islam, since the latter was “a religion that prescribes dignity for all human beings”.

In line with this Islamic precept, Radwan argued that there was a need to improve living conditions in society at large. “We cannot only talk about defending women’s rights when the socio-economic challenges are so harsh for the entire society and when we know that whenever life gets tough it is the women who end up sacrificing some of their rights to make ends meet for the family,” she said in an interview at the beginning of the 2010 parliament.

Radwan also long promoted the need to improve the quality of education in Egypt, and she worked with the officials concerned to develop curricula that would promote healthy cross-gender and cross-faith relations. She argued that it was the school curriculum that formed the basis for a healthy society in which girls and boys and Muslims and Christians could live together in peaceful harmony. She was convinced that this kind of harmony was crucial to development.

Radwan graduated from Ain Shams University in Cairo in the 1960s and received a PhD degree from Alexandria University in the late 1970s. Always a tough parliamentarian, she was a kind mother to a daughter and a son and an exceptionally affectionate grandmother to her two granddaughters.

In late 2011, she was diagnosed with cancer and she fought hard, as she always did, to combat the illness, finally deciding that the fight was over last weekend.

The loss of Radwan comes at a critical moment in the struggle for women’s rights, since there are now many voices, especially in parliament, who are trying to force through an argument that she always resisted — that Islam sees women as lesser creatures and therefore lesser citizens to men.

This was an argument, she always said, that not only went against the rights of women but also violated the spirit of Islam itself.


Dina Ezzat

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