Zonta International Honorary Member, women’s activist, Jehan Sadat dies at 87.

Best known for her advocacy of women’s rights during her tenure as Egypt’s first lady, Jehan Sadat lived by example of how when women empower women, the whole world advances. She died on Friday, 9 July in Cairo after battling cancer. Details of her illness were not publicized. 

Born Jehan Safwat Raouf in August 1933 on Roda, an island in the middle of the Nile River, Sadat married Anwar Sadat, 15 years her senior, at the age of 15 and had four children. Several years before her husband became the President of Egypt in 1970, the women of her country sought out Jehan for guidance and assistance. At first, Jehan helped the women one-on-one until she realized there was strength in numbers and increased her efforts. She started a women’s movement in her village of Talla, which included establishing training centers helping women become self-sufficient. She also helped establish the Egyptian Society for Cancer Patients, the Egyptian Blood Bank and SOS Children’s Villages – an organization that provided a better homelife for orphans. 

On a global level, Sadat headed the Egyptian delegation to the UN International Women's Conferences in Mexico City and Copenhagen. She founded the Arab-African Women's League and hosted and participated in numerous conferences throughout the world concerning women's issues, children's welfare, and peace in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America. 

Concerned that women were not part of the decision-making process that affected their lives, she decided to demonstrate the political role that women could play by running for an elected office on a local seat. She said she was not interested in a political career or a position of power but “wanted only to pave the way for other women to participate in rural politics.” In 1974, she won uncontested and was reelected four years later to serve as the first woman council chairman in Egypt.

Focusing on education, she enrolled in Cairo University at the age of 41 to study Arabic literature. After completing her bachelor’s degree, she immediately began work on her master’s degree. To encourage other women to educate themselves, Sadat agreed to broadcast her master’s oral examinations on live television in 1980. Passing the exams easily, she went on to lecture at the university while also working toward a Ph.D. 

In 1981, her husband was assassinated. Sadat pushed forward with her life although it was difficult. She led a more private life; and, in 1985, she came to the U.S. to continue her teaching career at the University of South Carolina, Radford University and the University of Maryland and later wrote “A Woman of Egypt,” an autobiography and “My Hope for Peace.” 

In 1990, to honor her on an international level for the work she had done with women and on behalf of women, Zonta International selected Sadat to receive the title of International Honorary Member. She already held an honorary membership in the Zonta Club of Cairo. She was invited to the 50th Zonta International Convention in Dallas, Texas, USA, to be the keynote speaker where she wowed Zontians with her insight.

In an interview published in the December/January/February 1990 Issue of The Zontian, Sadat said that she felt one of Zonta’s greatest assets is its international network of women and urged Zontians to use their abilities to raise the literacy rates among women worldwide. 

“The main thing in front of us as women is to educate women everywhere and to eradicate the illiteracy of women,” Sadat said. “Zonta can manage to eradicate illiteracy and to help women in finding jobs and feeling their identity. When women find jobs and are earning money, they feel their identity. They can depend upon themselves and that will help so much for the status of women everywhere – and Zonta can do it. Yes. They can.” 


19 July 2021