Women’s rights in Egypt, gender discrimination and violations of equality rules are an epidemic in this country even today. Has it always been like that? Is the population supporting the state of women’s rights in Egypt today?
Through the history, the role of women in Egypt has changed dramatically. In the archaeological records preserved from the ancient times, Egyptian women were considered nearly equal to men regardless of marital status.
However, today the state of women’s rights in Egypt is extremely poor. Before the revolution and even today, Egyptian women face some major issues, starting from female genital mutilation, honor killings to sexual harassment and other types of violence.
So, if you want to learn more about the history and statistics about women’s rights in Egypt, just keep on reading.
The History of Struggle for Women’s rights in Egypt
The question of reform and democratization in Egypt was placed in the front row before the revolution of January 2011. Nevertheless, today sexual harassment and violence in the streets continue to be a daily struggle and a grave problem for the women in Egypt.
According to statistics of 2013, Egypt was ranked as the worst country in the Arab World for women to live. Although Egyptian women have made major progress in parliament and in fighting female genital mutilation, nonetheless the deeply religious society remains very much ingrained in conservative customs and traditions.
According to the 2008 statistics, 83 % of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign women that live in Egypt have experienced some kind of sexual harassment. Furthermore, from all of the people, who reported cases of sexual harassment, only 12 % had gone to the police with a complaint.
As a 2001 USAID statistics report, 97% of women had undergone a form of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). Moreover, in Egypt, if you are a man, you can basically kill your wife and avoid any kind of punishment.
Women’s Rights in Egypt: Examples of Sexist Laws in Egypt and Other Muslim Countries
The starkest examples of sexist laws in Arab and Muslim countries are presented as Islamic Sharia-compliant, whether it is a reality or not. So, these laws are non-negotiable.
If we are going to enforce gender equality, here are some laws that should be revised.
- Polygamy is legal for men only. A man can divorce his wife for any reason and with no grounds without going to court. Whereas, a woman needs to have strong argumentation and reasons for divorce.
Furthermore, she must convince the court about the hardships of her marriage, and the judge may or may not grant her divorce.
In 2000, a new law (the Khula Law) was introduced where a woman can file for divorce on no grounds. However, then she has to forfeit her financial rights and compensate her husband the property and gifts that was given during the marriage. But before that, Egyptian women did not even have the right to divorce their husbands on their own terms.
Other laws include but are not limited with;
- A woman inherits half what a man inherits.
- In some Muslim countries, a woman’s testimony in the court is half that of a man’s.
- A Muslim man can marry a non-Muslim woman, but a Muslim woman is not granted the same right.
- In most Muslim countries, spousal rape is not recognized in the law.
- Abortion is considered illegal unless there is a risk to the mother’s life. But even this has to be with the husband’s agreement.
Therefore, the general atmosphere for women’s rights in Egypt is one of intimidation, complete impunity, and aggression with the discriminatory laws.
Can you imagine a society where a man should only say the words “I divorce you” to register the divorce? Furthermore, he may not even tell his wife he is divorcing her and it is the duty of the registrar to “inform” her.
As for the woman, she has to remain unmarried for three months after she gets divorced and such waiting period doesn’t exist for men. Let’s not forget to mention about the “Obedience Law”.
According to this law, a man may file an obedience complaint against his wife if she leaves the home without his permission. If she fails to file an objection detailing the legal grounds for “her failure to obey”, she is considered “deviant” and is denied her financial rights upon divorce (in case she was ever granted one).
Laws about adultery in Egypt
Legislators in Egypt have always quoted Islamic Sharia as justification when imposing strictly personal status laws. But, when it comes to adultery, Egyptian laws are far from Islamic teachings and are quite outrageous.
Laws referring to the crime of adultery are an embodiment of discrimination and sexism. Let’s have a look at some of them.
- A married man would only be charged with adultery if he commits the crime in his house. The punishment is imprisonment for six months, on other occasions, there is no crime and no punishment. Meanwhile, a married woman would be accused of adultery if she commits the crime anywhere and with anyone. They are given a sentence of two years in prison.
- If an unmarried man and woman commit adultery and the female is over 18, she may face charges of prostitution while he receives no punishment.
- If a man catches his wife red-handed in the crime, he can kill her and her partner without facing intentional murder charges. He may only get a sentence as low as 24 hours. On the other hand, a wife immediately faces murder charges with its maximum sentence if she catches her husband red-handed and kills him.
According to some reports, Islamist parties are drafting a law for early marriage permitting girls to get married at the age of 14 instead of 18.
Furthermore, Salafist MPs have argued on this topic saying that there should be no minimum age for marriage for both sexes. The explanation to this is that in the Sharia Law the age for marriage is not specified.
Overview of Women’s Rights in Egypt Before the Revolution and Today
Throughout the history, women’s rights groups have required for fair representation of women in decision-making positions in Egypt. Even today, the trend continues to be that of low representation for women.
To bring an example, in 2011 the Supreme Council of Armed Forces appointed a committee consisted of all-males to draft constitutional principles for a March referendum.
Furthermore, there was no woman appointed as a minister in the first post-2011 cabinet; no woman is a public prosecutor and no woman has ever become a governor. Besides, there is no national strategy for gender equality.
Alongside with all the other issues, there is an economic gender gap in Egypt as females occupy only 20.2% of the total workforce. The majority of the employed women are in the spheres of education and health. Not to mention that they are receiving a low income compared to men.
Additionally, women are facing gender-based violence in the employment sector.
The change after the revolution of 2011, is the new creation of public space and the rise of new women’s rights and feminist groups fighting for more rights and the end of violence against women.
Nonetheless, according to the statistics, the number of sexually harassed women has risen from 83% (2008) to 99.3% (2014). This means that every woman in Egypt has experienced sexual harassment at some point in her life. The majority of survivors say that the term “sexual harassment” is not strong enough to describe the situation and it’s rather appropriate to use the term “sexual terrorism”.
What Happened after the Revolution?
In 2011, Egyptians stood for their freedom and dignity and won their great victory by removing the former president Hosni Mubarak. They took to the streets their protest of torture, corruption, police brutality, unemployment, hunger and gender-based discrimination.
The short-termed government of Mohammed Morsi, elected in June 2012 and overthrown in June 2013, showed great opposition towards calls for gender equality.
As the course of the history showed, the post-revolution government failed to recognize some important women’s issues such as human trafficking, marital rape, and sexual harassment; one of the most crucial problems for Egyptian women today.
In 1953, when the Arab Republic of Egypt was born and Nasser became Egypt’s second President (and arguably its most beloved one) women came closer to equal status with men under the law.
Under his government, women were granted the right to vote and equal participation in public life. Moreover, education was also encouraged. It seemed that the state was championing women’s cause like no other government before the revolution. Nonetheless, over the time, it was clear that Nasser’s Egypt was built on political artifice.
Among the victories of Egyptian women was the trend of ‘down veiling’. This is the less conservative forms of Islamic dress that emerged in the nineties.
What about Women’s Rights in Egypt Today?
Despite these minor victories, the problem of street harassment was growing in Mubarak’s Egypt and the perception of women as sexual objects still prevailed in Egyptian society. Besides, in recent years sexual harassment and assault have reached unprecedented levels.
To conclude, the Egyptian revolution created the space for freedom of expression and movement for women’s rights activists and other actors in the women’s rights movement. Indeed, the revolution created the right circumstances for meaningful shifts, both within government institutions and on the street.
Nevertheless, extreme violence was being exercised towards women before the revolution and it still happens even today. The subsequent failure of the Islamist-dominated government to advocate and protect the rights of women, violated not only the spirit of the revolution but also international laws.
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