Fearless Mona Eltahawy talks headscarves and hymens in Derry

Author of Headscarves and Hymens Mona Eltahaway, guest speaker at Tuesday's Foyle Women's Information Network Annual Conference at the Maldron Hotel. DER4215MC013
Author of Headscarves and Hymens Mona Eltahaway, guest speaker at Tuesday's Foyle Women's Information Network Annual Conference at the Maldron Hotel. DER4215MC013

She’s been named by Newsweek magazine as one of the most fearless women in the world and she’s the author of the globally acclaimed book ‘Headscarves and Hymens.’

But when Mona Eltahawy tells you she wore a headscarf for nine years, it’s hard not to do a double take when you see her now shocking red hair.

The award winning Egyptian feminist was in Derry at the Maldron Hotel on Tuesday as the keynote speaker in the Foyle Women Information Network’s conference Peace Power & Patriarchy.

Mona explained how she was born in Egypt but has lived in many countries including the UK, USA, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. She identifies as a global feminist and says her own experience resonates with the women of Derry.

“I am happy to be here because we need to see each other as women around the world fighting a similar fight against patriarchy,” she said.

“I connect my upbringing to that of women in Ireland to remind people of that toxic mix of religion and culture. Here in Ireland for example we have the long history of the struggle between feminist activists and the church and the struggle for freedom from the church’s teaching, particularly when it comes to reproductive rights, in that women don’t have access to abortion here.

Mona Eltahawy, International public speaker Arab and Muslim Issues, is presented with a hands across the divide plaque by Catherine Cooke, Foyle Women's Information Network, at their Annual conference, Peace, Power and Patriarchy II at the Maldron Hotel.

Mona Eltahawy, International public speaker Arab and Muslim Issues, is presented with a hands across the divide plaque by Catherine Cooke, Foyle Women's Information Network, at their Annual conference, Peace, Power and Patriarchy II at the Maldron Hotel.

“I think this became more apparent when the south had the referendum and voted to bring about marriage equality. “So here we have marriage equality which I celebrate, but we are talking about a country who allow same sex couples to marry but will not allow women to get an abortion. So I remind people that no matter where we grew up, there is nowhere in the world where feminism has achieved all of its goals.”

The award winning columnist says she connects women’s issues around the world in a transnational way.

“I’ve been asked to speak here by way of connecting a lot of the issues that come up here to the global spectrum of misogyny. I am very glad to be here because one of the things I discuss in my book is what I call the triangle of patriarchy and misogyny. This is the state, the street, and the home, and how these three specifically, along with a toxic mix of religion and culture, oppress women around the world.”

In may of this year Mona, a former journalist, published her revolutionary book Hymens and Headscarves. - why the Middle East needs a sexual revolution.

Mona Eltahawy, International public speaker Arab and Muslim Issues, pictured at Foyle Women's Information Network's Annual conference, Peace, Power and Patriarchy II at the Maldron Hotel. Included, are the deputy Mayor of Derry and Strabane District Council, Councillor Thomas Kerrigan, Dr Cathy Higgins, Irish School of Ecumenics, Catherine Cooke, Foyle Women's Information Network and Maureen Hetherington, The Junction.

Mona Eltahawy, International public speaker Arab and Muslim Issues, pictured at Foyle Women's Information Network's Annual conference, Peace, Power and Patriarchy II at the Maldron Hotel. Included, are the deputy Mayor of Derry and Strabane District Council, Councillor Thomas Kerrigan, Dr Cathy Higgins, Irish School of Ecumenics, Catherine Cooke, Foyle Women's Information Network and Maureen Hetherington, The Junction.

She revealed that when she moved to Saudi Arabia when she was 16 she chose to wear the headscarf, but at the age of 25, chose to take it off again.

“One of the things that I talk about it in my book and the reason I called it Headscarves and Hymens is that I believe Muslim women have been reduced to what’s on our heads and what’s in between our legs. But I am more than my headscarf and more than my hymen.”

On Tuesday Mona talked about some of the events that made headlines on a global scale, such as the 18-day revolution that toppled Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, when she appeared on most major media outlets, leading the feminist website Jezebel to describe her as “The Woman Explaining Egypt to the West”.

And in November 2011, how Egyptian riot police beat her, breaking her left arm and right hand, and sexually assaulted her and she was detained for 12 hours by the Interior Ministry and Military Intelligence.

Mona Eltahawy, International public speaker Arab and Muslim Issues, pictured at the Foyle Women's Information Network's Annual conference, Peace, Power and Patriarchy II at the Maldron Hotel. Included, are Maureen Hetherington, Dr Cathy Higgins, Irish School of Ecumenics, Diane Greer, Catherine Cooke, Foyle Women's Information Network and Lillian Seenoi, North West Migrants Forum.

Mona Eltahawy, International public speaker Arab and Muslim Issues, pictured at the Foyle Women's Information Network's Annual conference, Peace, Power and Patriarchy II at the Maldron Hotel. Included, are Maureen Hetherington, Dr Cathy Higgins, Irish School of Ecumenics, Diane Greer, Catherine Cooke, Foyle Women's Information Network and Lillian Seenoi, North West Migrants Forum.

Other speakers were Dr Cathy Higgins, Maureen Hetherington and Lilian Seenoi.