Bint Al-Nil (Daughters of the Nile) – Doria Shafik
The Bint Al-Nil was originally an Arabic magazine established in 1945 by Egyptian feminist activist, Doria Shafik before it transformed into a political party in 1948. Doria decided to establish a magazine, which intended to focus on women’s issues, nutrition and health and parenting advice in the Arabic language so the magazine could be more accessible to the middle classes of Egypt.
Doria Shafik. Courtesy Rare Books & Special Collections Library, AUC
Bint Al-Nil spoke to Egyptian middle class women, with the intention to awaken the social consciousness of women in Egypt who arguably were classed as second-class citizens.[i] Doria Shafik’s aim when establishing the Bint Al-Nil movement was much the same as the aim set out for the magazine. The aim of the movement was to ‘awaken the desire to attain equal rights in a society that traditionally saw women placed in a secondary role to men and to show Egypt that the modern women was strident, educated, conscious and solicitous of the country’s long history and tradition’. [ii]
Doria Shafik in a meeting with the Bint Al Nil Executive Council. Courtesy Rare Books & Special Collections Library, AUC
The Bint Al-Nil Union gained recognition from the International Council for Women in 1949 and set out to reform two Egyptian laws; the law prohibiting enfranchisement of women, and the law prohibiting women standing in parliament. The Bint Al-Nil union also demanded other societal reforms such as allowing women to participate in the national struggle for independence and in politics in general, to have the personal status laws reformed by setting limitations on polygamy and divorce and equal pay for equal work. The union’s beliefs was that men could not speak for women or fully solve women’s issues, and that only women could fully tackle social issues that directly influence women. Doria is quoted in saying:
“What capable hands can rouse them out of their sleep if not those of women? What heart is more susceptible to sympathizing with the sufferings of the woman if it is not the heart of a woman? Women must not only be present when laws concerning them are legislated; they must be involved in writing them. By demanding the totality of her rights, particularly her political rights, which are the basis of all rights, the woman could bring about fundamental changes in society.”[iii]
Suffrage protests 1952, Doria Shafik in the middle wearing a black suit. "Dutch National Archives"
The Bint Al-Nil’s storming of parliament on February 19th 1951 set the movement, and Doria on the international stage and they became famous for their strides towards equality and their initiatives to wipe out illiteracy among Egyptian women. The movement, and Doria Shafik, deserve to be heralded as activists that gave the modern Egyptian woman the right to be their own person and participate in making their country a better place through the right to vote and the right to be involved and stand in parliament.
At Jam Space we believe that stories like this are of the utmost importance and that everyone should be proud of their heritage. We currently stock prints of the Bint Al-Nil magazine’s 1952 covers, which make perfect home accessories, but knowing the story and the importance behind them makes them truly unique as they tell an important story of not only Egyptian history but also women’s history and the struggle for equality.
[iii] Cynthia Nelson, ‘Doria Shafik Egyptian Feminist: A Woman Apart’, (The American University in Cairo Press, 1996) page 147.