At the end of 1972 Saadawi was removed from her position as the Director of Health Education and the Editor-in-Chief of Health magazine after the publication of Women and Sex. She began research on neurosis in Egyptian women, during which she met a doctor at Qanatir Prison who talked to her about the inmates, including a female prisoner who had killed a man and had been sentenced to hanging. Saadawi was interested in meeting the woman and visiting the prison, and her colleague arranged for her to conduct her research at Qantair Prison in the autumn of 1974. Saadawi visited many women in the cell block and in the mental clinic and was able to conduct twenty-one in-depth case studies for her 1976 publication, Women and Neurosis in Egypt, but Firdaus remained, "a woman apart." Firdaus was executed in 1974, but she left a lasting impact on Saadawi, who said she could not rest until she'd written about Firdaus' story and finished the novel in one week. Saadawi describes Firdaus as a martyr and says she admires her because, "Few people are ready to face death for a principle."  Later, when Saadawi was imprisoned in Qanatir in 1981 for political offenses, she reflected that she would find herself looking for Firdaus among the prison population, unable to believe that the woman who had inspired her so much was truly dead.
Initially, Egyptian publishers rejected the book and the first edition was published in Lebanon in 1975. Woman at Point Zero has subsequently been published in twenty-two languages. The English language translation was originally published in 1983 by Zed Books Ltd. in London and Room 400 in New York.