Hoda Badran is a woman pioneer of Egypt’s feminist movement. In the interview, she spoke about her academic achievements, and her father’s role in her intellectual development. Hoda earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the American University in Cairo in 1957, and a master’s degree in social administration from the University of Louisville in the USA in 1959, before obtaining her doctorate in social welfare from Case Western Reserve University in 1967. Hoda worked as a social worker, and as a department director at the United Nation’s World Blind Organization, in addition to several other posts at different countries, such as the USA and Sri Lanka. Hoda also founded the Alliance for Arab Women (AAW), and the Egyptian Feminist Union (EFU), and took part in various international conferences, among which was the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing.
At the age of six, Hoda attended Princess Fawqia School in Banha for four years, and earned the top student prize for graduating primary school with the highest score in al-Qalyubia governorate. Hoda explained that her distinguished academic performance and her attempts to achieve excellence at school were her way of combating the gender discrimination she experienced in her family. She also added that her father’s intellect had a great impact on her academic success. He founded the committee for writing, translation, and publication, in collaboration with Taha Hussein, Ahmed Amin, and others. He was also keen on taking his children on weekly trips to visit the different historical sites. Hoda recounted, “there were literary salons at that time. I still remember the Thursday salon of the committee for writing, translation, and publication. Not all the children attended, but because I was clever, my father used to take me with him. I was seven years old when I started attending these salons. I got to listen to conversations that were beyond my understanding as a child, but I could understand some of what was being discussed. I was so clever. At the age of eight or nine, I felt that above all else, education was very important to people’s lives.”
Upon completing her primary education, Hoda moved with her family to Cairo, and resided in Dareh Saad district. She recalled that she spent most of her time with her brother’s friends, and shared their interests, saying, “I associated with those boys and played with them. They were my elder brother’s friends. When they formed a football team, I was on the team, but they treated my differently. They did not give me a fixed position on the field, like I was less.”
Hoda attended the Women’s Education Secondary School for six years, then the French Lycée, from which she graduated with excellence. She got married immediately after her school graduation to one of her father’s friends, who passed away shortly after their marriage. Hoda got married at the age of 16, and had her daughter before she turned 18.
Hoda got introduced to Ihsan al-Qousi, the Dean of the Faculty of Social Service, who encouraged Hoda to pursue a university education. Hoda enrolled in the Faculty upon receiving the permission issued by the Ministry of Education, and graduated in the second place nationally. She joined the American University in Cairo after being offered a fellowship, with the help of one of her professors, Dr. Garner. Afterwards, Hoda worked as a social worker in the Women Teachers School in al-Helmeya, and recalled the experience of interacting with girls from various backgrounds, and her close relationship with them.
Hoda managed to earn a job opportunity as a department director at the United Nation’s World Blind Organization, and described this experience saying, “I always believed that life is both chance and effort, together. Towards the end of his life, my father lost his sight. Working with the blind was extremely beneficial to my relationship with him, when I walked with him, when I held his arm. The most basic things made a huge impact. You know, when you hold the blind people and lead them as you walk, they get very upset, but when you put your hand in their hand, when you walk together, they feel empowered, as an equal, because it feels like any two people holding hands. It seems like a small thing.”
Hoda earned a two-year scholarship to study for her master’s degree in the USA. Upon her return, she worked as a Teaching Assistant at the Faculty of Social Education. Following her father’s death, and with the troubles she faced with the Faculty Dean, Hoda applied for an unpaid leave, and opted to travel abroad on an academic mission to the USA to study for her PhD, which she earned in 1967. Hoda recounted that she received a subvention to cover her daughter’s cost of living in the USA with her, yet was compelled to return the money since the subvention was only offered to men.
After returning to Egypt, Hoda started working on her PhD thesis at the Faculty of Social Service, researching the topic of urban development in Shubra al-Khayma. She was commissioned by UNICEF to conduct a study on the status of women in Egypt, Sudan, and Lebanon, after which UNICEF organized the first regional conference on women and development, in cooperation with the Arab League, and UNESCO. The conference resulted in the establishment of the “Women’s Committee” affiliated with the Arab League. Hoda was offered a job at the UNICEF, working on an urban development project in Beirut. She recalled the help she received from the Faculty Dean, who enabled her to obtain a secondment from the Faculty. She had to submit her resignation from her post at the Faculty as a result of the problems she faced due to her desire to receive a pension from the United Nations. However, her resignation was rejected by the University President, who submitted Hoda for review and investigation. She was eventually terminated from her post at the Faculty and denied a quarter of her pension, for what the University considered as underperformance and negligence from her part.
Hoda recalled her career achievements, among which was founding the women’s department at Al-Azhar, which included publishing booklets and a bulletin, in addition to arranging an agreement with the “Mother and Child Unit” at the Faculty of Medicine. In 1980, Hoda was offered an advisory position at the UN, as a Resident Representative. She worked in policy development and implementation as a UNICEF Bureau Chief in Sri Lanka. Upon her return to Egypt, she took part in the Third World Forum, and worked as a Primary Investigator in a study on the rural countryside in the Arab world. She also returned to the University to resume her teaching post.
In addition, Hoda founded the Alliance for Arab Women (AAW), with Aida al-Gindi, Laila al-Lababidi, and Sawsan Othman, who was the Dean of the Social Service Institute. The Alliance commenced its activity by providing aid to nurseries, then expanded to include participating in international conferences, informally affiliated with the Arab League. The Alliance coordinated the Beijing Conference in 1995 at the regional Arab level, under the supervision of the UN. Hoda cofounded the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, and was appointed as its Secretary General. She was also elected twice to head the International Committee for Child Welfare. When Egypt was elected as a member of the international Executive Board of UNICEF, Hoda was selected to represent Egypt on this board.
Hoda Badran concluded the interview by commending the pioneering role that Egypt played in the seventies with regards to women’s issues, and celebrated the leading positions she and her women peers occupied at that time, saying, “we had a very big role as Egyptians in the seventies.”