Jehan Sadat, the widow of former President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt, died on July 9 in Cairo at the age of 87. Egyptian media reported that she had been hospitalized for cancer. Seen as a staunch advocate of women’s rights, her work changed the world’s views on Arab women for generations to come.
Born Jehan Safwat Raouf on August 29, 1933 in the capital of Egypt to an Egyptian father and a British mother, she married Anwar Sadat at the age of 15. During her husband’s tenure as president from 1970 until his assassination in 1981, Jehan Sadat motivated her husband to enact a series of measures aimed at empowering women in the country, while being a loyal stalwart of his peacemaking decisions.
Here are some of the life lessons we can learn from Jehan Sadat.
Work tirelessly for a cause you believe in
A vocal feminist, Sadat toiled incessantly to change attitudes, customs, and the laws to give Egyptian women greater control over their lives, their bodies and their children. Her lobbying, which continued long after her husband’s death, resulted in changes in civil rights legislation which became known as the “Jehan laws,” and gave women, among other things, the right of child support and custody in case of divorce.
Show equal compassion for those marginalized and suffering
Apart from making significant strides in the establishment of women’s rights, Sadat also made headlines with her charitable work and in 1972 helped establish a charitable group to benefit disabled veterans and civilians. She also presided over several national relief agencies, including the Egyptian Red Crescent, the country’s blood bank, and the Egyptian Society for Cancer Patients.
Take criticism with a grain of salt
Sadat drew attacks from observers who accused her of exploiting her husband’s position to gain political leverage for herself, especially because her public visibility and political influence as Egypt’s first lady was a complete departure from her predecessor, Tahia Abdel Nasser, who had kept a low profile during the rule of her husband, Gamal Abdel Nasser. However, she was determined to play a more active role than the wives of previous leaders, paving the way for future First Ladies to do the same and proving that women in politics are here to stay.
Education is a timeless weapon
At the age of 41, Sadat decided to return to school and enrolled at Cairo University to obtain a bachelor’s degree in Arabic Literature, attending university at the same time as three of her grown up children. Followed by a master’s degree in 1980 and a doctorate in comparative literature in 1986, she took on lecturing posts in Cairo and the US, attesting that learning is a lifetime process no matter your age, gender, or marital status.
There is no stronger force than peace
Sadat was just 46 when her husband died, and spent her remaining years trying to preserve his legacy of peace through her work lecturing around the world. “Peace. This word, this idea – this goal – is the defining theme of my life. I am always hoping and praying for peace,” the author of her New York Times bestselling autobiography, A Woman of Egypt, wrote 12 years before her death.