Doria Shafik, born in Tanta, Egypt, in 1908, spent her life fighting for the political and social rights of Egyptian women. She used journalism, hunger strikes, and political protests as tools to advocate for women, pushing for crucial reforms such as the right to vote. Doria actively resisted British colonial rule, and later, pushed back against what she saw as President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s totalitarian rule. On August 22, New York Times writer David Kirkpatrick shared Shafik’s story in the newspaper’s “Overlooked” series, which celebrates women and people of color whose achievements were overlooked by the publication at the time of their death.
Kirkpatrick’s account highlights how Shafik forged her own path in education and activism. Although she was told she could not continue her education past elementary school, she studied independently, and secured a place at the Sorbonne in Paris, where she completed her PhD at the age of thirty-two. In 1945, she launched her own magazine, Bint al-Nil (Daughter of the Nile), and three years later, she formed the Daughters of the Nile Union, which advocated for the full social, cultural, and political, equality of women. She is most recognized, however, for a mass protest at the Egyptian parliament in 1951, to secure women’s right to vote. As Kirkpatrick describes the event:
She convened a crowd of 1,500 women at a lecture hall at the American University of Cairo for what she billed “a feminist congress.” But that was a just ruse to fool the police. Shafik had other plans.
“Our meeting today is not a congress but a parliament. A true one! That of women,” she declared.
Moments later, she led her army of women as they stormed through the marble gates and onto the floor of Egypt’s all-male parliament — “the parliament of the other half of the nation,” she called it that day.
“We are here by the force of our right,” Shafik told a parliamentary leader who tried in vain to stop them.
Her demonstrators shut down the legislature for more than four hours, until the president of its upper chamber pledged to take up their key demands: the right of women to vote and to hold office.
Although women eventually secured the right to vote in 1956, Shafik argued that the new constitution, which was passed under Nasser in 1956, did not clearly define political rights for women. After her second hunger strike in 1957, Nasser placed Doria under house arrest, her name was banned from the press, and she was expelled from the union she had formed. When Shafik committed suicide in 1975, Egyptian journalist Mustafa Amin wrote, “She [Shafik] paid a horrible price for her boldness, when all those around her quivered in fear from the sword and the whip.”