Huda Shaarawi Google Doodle
Image Credit: Google

Dubai: Google Doodles are the fun, surprising, and sometimes spontaneous changes that are made to the Google logo to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and the lives of famous artists, pioneers, and scientists. Google teams have created over 4,000 Doodles for the homepages around the world.

Gulf News spoke with Zain Masri from Google Middle East’s marketing department, whose team is responsible for choosing these doodles. “We aim to represent both male and female figures equally and over the past five years, at least 50 per cent of Doodles in the Arab world have celebrated women.” 

“We celebrated Huda Shaarawi’s accomplishments on what would have been her 141st birthday. She founded the Egyptian Feminist Union through which she tirelessly advocated for women’s education, suffrage, and legal equality, including representation in parliament. Her work captured the region’s imagination as a symbol of women’s ability to break barriers,” Zain told Gulf News. 

The Doodle was illustrated by Cairo-based guest artist Aya Tarek. It features a portrait of Huda Shaarawi as the focal point, she is surrounded by a diverse group of women in terms of backgrounds, age groups and lifestyle choices. “Elements of Egypt’s streetscape can also be seen in the backdrop, and if you look closely, the cityscape elements abstractly depict the Google letters,” she explains. 

The founding of the Egyptian Feminist Union represented just one aspect of a remarkable and multifaceted life. She was also an activist, feminist, nationalist, author and an inspirational advocate who helped pave the way for Egypt’s first secondary school for women, and in 1933, the country honored its first female university graduates. In 1956, another one of her biggest goals was finally achieved when Egypt granted women the right to vote and run for office. 

Remembering pioneer Egyptian feminist Image Credit: Supplied

Huda Shaarawi is incredibly inspiring for women around the world, her story continues to be more relevant than ever. Women make up 50 per cent of the population of the Arab world and despite many advances in bridging the gender gap in health, political representation and labor force participation, many barriers remain. 

Shaarawi fought against 'harem' restrictions

More than seven decades after her death, Shaarawi is remembered in her homeland, Egypt, by more than a street that carries her name in central Cairo. Egyptian Minister of Planning Hala Al Saeed, one of four women ministers in Egypt's incumbent government, recently paid homage to Hoda on her 141st birthday. 

"Huda Shaarawi is a pioneer of women's liberation," the minister wrote on her Instigram. "She stands out among those who struggled for better conditions for women. Today, the Egyptian state is proud of the woman that has reached senior political posts. The woman has become a government minister, a governor a member of parliament," Hala added. 

An early 20th century advocate of women rights, Huda is credited with her relentless struggle against restrictions on women of the time, dubbed "culture of harem". Her fight has eventually borne fruit. She pushed for raising the girl's marriage age to 16 and giving women the right to education and engagement in public life -- now established rights in Egypt. Her struggle was more or less the result of a miserable personal life. 

Born on June 23, 1879 in Egypt's southern province of Minya, she was the daughter of an aristocratic family. Her father was Mohammed sultan, the head of Egypt's first parliament. Her father died when she was still five. As was the tradition of the high class of the time, the little girl was allowed to learn French and Turkish as well as piano at the hands of private tutors. Social traditions stopped her from pursuing regular education, unlike her younger brother who was favoured by the family for being a male.

This made her feel discriminated against merely for being a girl. 

Deep scar

"They always at home preferred my younger brother," Huda said in her memoirs. "Their excuse was that he is the boy who carries the father's name and marks the family's extension after his death while she would eventually marry somebody and carry his name," she narrates in the book published in 1981. 

At age 13, she got married to her cousin Ali Shaarawi, already a married father of three. That experience left a deep scar on her and shaped her life.

"On the following day of the wedding, I stood in the balcony of the house, looking at the garden where the wedding party was held. The once-decorated site completely stopped to exist. At that moment, I realised that my life fell into decline like my small garden," she recalled in her memoirs. She said marriage had deprived her of her hobbies, playing the piano and planting saplings.

Huda is believed to be the first Egyptian woman to have travelled to Europe without a male escort. Her trip to Europe helped her learn first-hand about the Western women and the feminist movement there. 

Born on June 23, 1879 in Egypt's southern province of Minya Image Credit: Supplied

Since the early 20th century, calls for promoting women's rights had gained ground in Egypt. Huda and other defenders of female rights set up charities and health care services to help poor women and children in particular. 

On March 16, 1919, Huda took to the streets along with about 300 other women in the first street protest by Egyptian women denouncing Britain's banishment of Egyptian pro-independence leader Saad Zaghlul. The first female Egyptian protester was shot dead by a British soldier on that day, and became an annual day for officially honouring women in Egypt. 

In 1921, Huda removed her veil at a public ceremony welcoming Zaghloul's return from exile. Her symbolic gesture infuriated Islamists. 

Two years later, she founded Egypt's first union for women with the aim of raising women's social standards. To that end, the union published "The Egyptian Woman", a magazine that targeted female and male readers. 

Huda also co-founded a federation for Arab women in 1944. That year, she organised in Egypt a conference for Arab women attended by delegates from 26 countries. They demanded equal political rights with men, restricting the right to divorce and allowing co-education in the kindergarten and primary schools.

Most such rights are realities in present-day Egypt. Summing up her pro-women drive, Huda writes: "I did not struggle to liberate the woman from society's shackles, but I struggled to liberate the man from the shackles of the ignorant woman."

She died in Cairo on December 12, 1947.

In recognition of her contributions, in 1966 then Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser ordered the Egyptian women's union renamed the Huda Shaarawy Society. A museum was also set up to commemorate her in Cairo.