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Posted on April 19th, 2012, by

Traditionally, countries of the third world suffered from the lack of democratic changes which could have improved the life of local people by means of provision equal rights and opportunities to all. Even though developed countries of the world, being democratic, still suffer from the lack of equal opportunities for all citizens, the situation in developing countries is even worse. In this regard, the position of women is particularly difficult because they suffer from discrimination which persists for decades and centuries. As the matter of fact, women have been discriminated since the ancient times. It is only in the late 19th and especially in the 20th century the development of feminist movement and profound socioeconomic and political changes led to a consistent improvement of the position of women in the society, though, even today, it is hardly possible to speak about absolutely equal position and opportunities women have compared to men. However, these positive changes mainly refer to well-developed, democratic countries, while women living in countries of the third world still suffer from a severe oppression from the part of men. In fact, the feminist movement, which has already led women in developed countries to a better position in the society, is just beginning in many countries of the third world. At the same time, women living in countries of the third world often have to overcome the resistance of the society which is bound to certain stereotypes and gender roles, which have persisted for centuries. In such a situation, the work of feminists and the development of feminist movement are of the utmost importance for countries of the third world and women living there.  In this respect, the role of female writers, such as Nawal El Saadawi, who was one of the first female writers which attempted to raise the public opinion against the patriarchal norms discriminating women in Arab and Muslim societies.

On analyzing the work of Nawal El Saadawi, it should be said that she is a prominent feminist whose contribution into the development of feminist movement in the Arab world and in countries of the third world can hardly be underestimated. In this respect, it is worth mentioning her autobiographical book Walking Through Fire: A Life of Nawal El Saadawi. In fact, this book reveals the history of the life of the author, which actually represents a permanent struggle against the existing biases and stereotypes which constantly oppressed Nawal El Saadawi and put her into a disadvantageous position compared to men.

The author amply uses the description of her personal experience referring to her feelings and emotions which contribute to the perception of the book on the personal level. What is meant here is the fact that the audience views the problems the author faced in the course of her life, during her education, professional career in a hospital, her work as a lawyer and later as a writer, from the point of view of the author, since Saadawi describes her emotions, the humiliation she often suffered from because of discriminatory practices which were treated as a norm in the Egyptian society[1]. In such a way, the author perceives the problem of the discrimination of women in Egypt, the Arab world and the third world at large not as an abstract problem, which is irrelevant to the life of ordinary people, but, in contrast, readers perceive this problem as a real, burning problem which affect all women living in the similar cultural environment as Nawal El Saadawi does. In such a way, through the personal experience the author evokes negative emotions of the audience in relation to the women discrimination in the third world.

At the same time, her book is not just an emotional story of her life. It is not just a story covering a personal tragedy of the author. Instead, Nawal El Saadawi reveals the fact that this is a systematic, structural problem, which affects not only the Egyptian society but also other societies which share the similar values and cultural norms, i.e. the Arab world, which is a part of the third world. To prove the profoundness of this problem, Nawal El Saadawi draws objective facts she takes from her personal experience and professional practice. For instance, she speaks about her education at Duke University as about a sort of exile because she could not receive a normal education in Egypt[2].

In fact, it is not her personal problem, but it is a problem other Egyptian women as well as women living in other countries of the third world suffer from. Hence, the lack of access of women to higher education in the third world is obvious and Saadawi shows that women need to make consistently harder efforts to get higher education compared to men, who actually take such an unjust situation for granted.

In such a way, the author attempts to draw the public attention to the problem of discrimination of women in Egypt and basically in the Arab world, though this problem may be easily extrapolated on other countries of the third world. In such a context, the autobiographical book by Nawal El Saadawi is very important because it opens the way to the public discussion of the problem of the women discrimination in the Arab world. In fact, her book shows that the problem exists and it is impossible to ignore it in the modern world. Obviously, this book can be very helpful in regard for the development of feminism in Egypt, the Arab world and the third world at large.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to underline the fact that the current position of Arab women is very difficult because they have to debunk the existing biases and stereotypes in order to be able to take a higher social position and become equal to men. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the book by Moghadan, where the author shows the extent to which women are discriminated in the third world and, what is more, she backs up Saadawi’s thesis that this is a structural, systematic problems which persists in the male dominated society. In fact, Moghadan stands on the ground that the national identity, to a significant extent, defines gender relations. On the other hand, the author agrees that, in spite of the difference of national identities, women living in different countries suffer from the discrimination. In actuality, on analyzing the position of women in the third world, the author arrives to the similar conclusion that Nawal El Saadawi does. To put it more precisely, Moghadan concludes that women are deprived of basic human rights and equal opportunities to exercise their rights and liberties. Instead, men are dominating and they control political and socioeconomic life of the society[3]. In such a situation, the main domain where women do not face competition and oppression is their households, where they perform the function of housewives with few rights, being totally subordinated to men, which though do not pay much attention to the problems of household.

The author conducts a comparative analysis of gender roles and gender relations in different countries and in different cultural environment. In such a way, the author manages to attain a higher degree of objectivity of the research and, what is more, the author reveals the fact that the problem of women’s discrimination exists in different countries[4]. Moreover, the use of such a method allows revealing similarities in the discrimination of women. To put it more precisely, the author lays emphasis on the political underrepresentation of women and the lack of their participation in the political life of their countries, poor socioeconomic position of women, which makes them dependent on men, low job opportunities, etc.

Obviously, the research conducted by Moghadan is very useful for the understanding of the essence of the problem of women’s discrimination in countries of the third world. In this respect, the most significant discovery made by the author is the fact that the problem of female inferiority, their secondary position in the society, is the problem which is typical for developing countries of the third world. In this regard, countries of the third world are consistently different from developed countries of Europe and America, for instance. As a result, due to the research conducted by Moghadan it is possible to identify major problems of the development of feminism in countries of the third world, which basically meet the problems identified by Saadawi, but, unlike Sqaadawi, who reveals the major problems of women in Egypt and the Arab world through her personal experience, Moghadan is mainly focused on the analysis of basic trends which are typical for the feminist movement, position of women and national peculiarities of countries of the third world.

Furthermore, Saadawi revealed the problem of underrepresentation of women in politics which is common not only for Egypt and Arab countries but also for the entire third world. In this respect, S. Zuhur supports the position of Saadawi and argues that women are severely discriminated and are often deprived of a possibility of participation in political life of Arab countries[5]. In this respect, it should be said that Zuhur basically stands on the ground that the political underrepresentation is a norm for the modern Arab world. In addition, the author explains such a situation by the historical development of the Arab world and Arab societies which tended to the discrimination of women and their underrepresentation in politics. At the same time, the author attempts to understand whether the current position of women in the Arab world is changing for better or not.

On analyzing the problem of the political underrepresentation of women Zuhur argues that the number of women in politics of Arab countries is low, while their participation in political life of their countries is incomparable to western countries. At the same time, the author points out a positive trend, according to which the situation has started to change for better. In this regard it should be said that the influence of the development of the feminist movement which was encouraged by works of Nawal El Saadawi and other writers is obvious since the emergence of feminism stimulated the Arab world to start changing the tradition view on women. The activation of the feminist movement contributed to the wider participation of women in the political life of their country. At any rate, they attempt to change the existing biases and stereotypes and enter national politics to change the position of women in countries of the third world. In this respect, the personal experience described by Saadawi in her book, her struggle against the discrimination and the truth about the position of women in Egypt as well as in the Arab world at large contributed consistently to the reevaluation of traditional norms accepted in the Arab world by many women as well as men. In addition, the author points out that the democratization of Arab countries, being relatively slow, also contributes to the improvement of the position of women and their wider participation in the political life of their countries.



[1] Saadawi, N. El. (2002). Walking Through Fire: A Life of Nawal El Saadawi. New York: Zed Books, 57.

[2] Saadawi, N. El. (2002). Walking Through Fire: A Life of Nawal El Saadawi. New York: Zed Books, 79.

[3] Moghadam, V.(ed), (2005). Gender and National Identity. Oxford University Press, p.361.

[4] Moghadam, V.(ed), (2005). Gender and National Identity. Oxford University Press, p.287.

[5] Zuhur, S. (2003). Women and Empowerment in the Arab World. Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Vol. 25, p.140

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