Zeina is a book by Nawal El Saadawi an Egyptian feminist writer, anti female genital mutilation (FMG) activist and medical doctor. She is popular in the literary world for her writings which have themes of feminism, religion, FMG amongst others.
Her book Women and Sex published in 1972 has been said to be a foundational text for the second wave of feminism. The book was one of the reasons she was dismissed from the Ministry of Health where she worked as at that time.
I became familiar with her works while writing an article on African feminists in the 21st century. Her book Zeina is her second work I have read and it speaks about the thing we all know but do not say for fear of being lynched or labelled. Little wonder she was imprisoned for her views which are by the way the truth.
Zeina is a book about Boudour a professor with a dark secret and Zeina a child that bears her mother’s name. Although the book speaks about female repression and oppression in Egypt, it can be related to female oppression in other parts of the world.
Nawal not only uses the theme of religion to depict how religion has been used from time to relegate women to the background, but also to show how men have used religion to dictate to women what should be and not be.
The emir issued a ruling that women’s voices were a source of shame. Every part of their bodies, in fact was a shame, including the head, the seat of thought and intellect.
She expands more on this thought in this video at 0:16-2:07.
She also questions religion
Why did God create Muslims and Copts? Why do Copts confess their sins to the priests if God already knows everything that goes on in their hearts? Why do women stand behind men in church? Why do Muslims pray 5 times a day and not three or four? Why does a man a marry four wives and a woman marries only one husband?
She also explores the themes of menstruation, sex, and male rape in the Arab world.
A theme I strongly identified with was the issue of having a mother’s name. What’s in a name? This theme would be identifiable to those brought up in societies that are highly patriarchal, for it is seen as a taboo to bear your mother’s name. I wondered is it not my fundamental human right to decide if I want to bear my mother’s name or not? Of this Nawal asks;
Why is having a father’s name an honor and having a mothers name a disgrace?
The conversation the book Zeina starts for me is this “is a woman lesser than a man in every form?
Contemporary society may say No, but our actions as a society says otherwise. Personally I have come across “educated” people who have a problem relating with women for some reason that I must agree with Nawal stems from religion. I say religion and not society because culture has become an infusion of religion and tradition.
Zeina is a thought provoking book, and should be read with an open mind. This is because it touches on sensitive issues that have been accepted and never questioned because someone said that was what was written. It encourages us to seek the truth for ourselves and interpret in our own way.
While some may say she is a crying feminist, I like to think she is a woman in tune with herself and has the courage to speak the truth. You really have to be to tell yourself certain truths.
I recommend this book to everyone one who wants to have a glimpse of what is like to live in a society filled with religion, hypocrisy and women.
You can purchase a copy here
Do you think female oppression exists? In what forms have you experienced or seen female oppression?