Anti-colonial nationalism, even in its reformist incarnations, worried about the woman question. An end to social oppression found its way on to the agenda of national liberation. At its most traditional, such an end looked like the modernization of patriarchy, with the new woman relegated to the domain of the home. On the more progressive side of national liberation, one finds many who argued that cultural traditions had ossified under the impact of patriarchy and feudal relations, and any opportunity to redress this had been suffocated by imperialism's alliance with the old social classes, which benefited from misogyny and status. Women and men, in this model, had to struggle against conservative domesticity and reconfigure what it is to be the public space of the nation and the private domain of the family.-Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations
The chapter "Cairo" in The Darker Nations by Vijay Prashad provides context to "We Egyptian Women" by Inji Aflatun in the Feminist Theory Reader.
Prashad views women's participation in anti-colonial struggles as a "first step towards liberation", claiming that "imperialism made progress for women nearly impossible". Women fought alongside men for national independence in Algeria, Cuba, Guinea, Indonesia, Kenya, Korea, Oman, Venezuela & Vietnam. Women dominated street protests in Egypt, India & Zanzibar, etc. This was a basis for anti-colonial solidarity all over the world. The struggle for representative democracy provided an ideological basis for extending political rights to women. This setting needs to be taken into account when reading 20th century feminist theory.
Putting Aflatun's essay in this context is helpful.
Egypt briefly granted women the vote in 1923, after independence was established. The Egyptian feminist movement can be traced back to this time period. Women won the vote again in 1956.
Writing in 1949, Aflatun equates democracy & modernization with women's full political participation. She claims the enemies of women are enemies of democracy, arguing that women are citizens and that to deny them rights would be an "injustice to society".
Rejecting the public/private split of classical liberalism, Aflatun does not see family (the domestic sphere) in opposition to society. She points out that women deal with social problems on a daily basis, naming clothing, food, health care, education, children and housing as issues.
She identifies British imperialism as contributing to illiteracy, noting that rates were highest before 1923. Education and literacy are goals to strive for, not barriers to granting women the vote.
Aflatun concludes by examining the status of women in an international human rights framework, noting that the UN Charter (1946) names equality as an issue and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) claims that everyone is deserving of the same rights, regardless of sex.
Because I still don't know that much about 20th century Egyptian political history, I am not sure why Aflatun's feminism hinges on the idea of Egypt as a modern state. Following Prashad, I think it's important to view this as part of the larger struggle for Third World independence, but it's unclear to me why Aflatun is so focused on viewing Egypt as a civilized nation. What do "modernization" and "civilized" mean in this context? In order to understand this, I think I need to know more about Nasser's Pan-Arabism.
Prashad notes that Nasser's Egypt has been criticized for promoting "state feminism", where women became dependent on the state instead of the family.
Aflatun's essay ends by praising Syria as the first Arab nation to give women the right to vote, but notes that this was limited progress because it was only given to educated women. It's not clear if Aflatun believes that all women are equal, but she does advocate full political participation for all women.