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POGAR > Countries > Country Theme: Gender: Egypt
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Conditions of Women

The Arab Republic of Egypt has undertaken substantial legal reforms concerning the status of women in recent years, but gender inequality persists in Egyptian society. In January 2000, the parliament revised the Personal Status Law to provide women with the opportunity to divorce their husbands without proving mistreatment. During the Fall of 2000, Egyptian courts struck down statutes that prohibited women from obtaining passports or traveling without permission from their fathers or husbands. Yet women, while constituting 28% of professional and technical workforce, comprised only 16% of Egypt's administrators and managers and 5% of its high government officials in 1998.

Domestic violence is a major problem in Egypt. The Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs has opened 150 family counseling bureaus to assist victims of household abuse. According to a report issued by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2002, 35 per cent of Egyptian women have been beaten by their husbands. A 2002 study reported by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Population and Development found that 47 per cent of all homicides with female victims were cases of ‘honor killing’ in which relatives murder a woman suspected of sexual impropriety, which includes being raped, in order to rid the family name of the perceived slur.

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Law of Personal Status

The personal status of women in Egypt is derived from Islamic law, which dictates the rules of marriage, divorce, inheritance, and employment. This legal structure is distinct from the rest of the Egyptian legal system, which is based on French civil law. Although the government has reformed some of the more egregious gender inequities in personal status law, women still face discrimination. Muslim women are prohibited from marrying Christian men and non-Muslim women who marry Muslim men are subject to Islamic law. A new personal status law was passed by the Egyptian Parliament in 2000, which gives women more rights and privileges. The law now allows women to obtain divorce in return for giving back the dowry given by the husband and exempting the husband from any further (future) financial obligations. Previously, women did not have the legal right to demand divorce. Men still have the right to obtain divorce easily. The new law also had a setback for women rights; women no longer have the right to travel abroad without the husband’s consent.

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Gender Reforms

Egypt is committed to increasing educational opportunities for women. In 2001 55.2% of women ages 15 and above were illiterate, compared to 32.8 of the males.

In rural areas, there is a marked gender gap in enrollment and education. The primary cause of the gap is economic pressures, which may force families to withdraw students, usually daughters, from school to provide additional income. In their 1996 report on CEDAW, the Egyptian government emphasized increasing educational opportunities for girls, particularly in rural regions. Women are now a majority of all students enrolled in higher education. Economically, women in Egypt have played an important role since the 1960s. Women comprised 30% of workers in the formal economy in 1998. A small segment of this group comprises a professional class of female doctors, lawyers, and business people. During the period 1998-1999, 22.1% of the labor force were women. 35% of women in employment worked in agriculture, 9% in industry and 56% in services. 16% of women worked in administrative and managerial positions and 31% in professional and technical positions.

The Egypt Demographic and Health Survey (1997) shows that 97% of ever-married women have been subjected to female circumcision. Ignorance, conservatism, illiteracy and poverty among other things have been blamed for the persistence of the practice. In 1994, the Minister of Health allowed its performance in public sector hospitals, but later issued a ban on female circumcision in 1997. Despite public initiatives, the practice persists.

Unprecedented in Egypt's history, the Supreme Judicial Council appointed 31 female judges out of 124 female candidates in March 2007. Thirty of them took legal oath before the Council on April 10, 2007, and one declined her new post. The new female judges will assume their jobs at the courts of first instance. Human rights and women’s associations welcomed their appointment, while some male judges and Islamists activists objected to this appointment on the pretext that Islam does not allow women to preside over the judiciary. However, Egyptian constitution and law do not prohibit women from occupying judicial positions.

Only four women were elected to the People’s Assembly in 2005, but President Mubarak later appointed five women to the parliament as part of his constitutional power. Thirteen of the 264 Shura Council members were also women. In the 2002 local elections, 774 women won seats for local government councils, and of these 750 were NDP candidates. President Mubarak issued a decree in January 2003 whereby he appointed a female judge to the High Constitutional Court for the first time in Egypt's history. The High Judicial council had nominated lawyer Tahani Al Jebali to this position. Two other women were appointed as members to the panel of High Constitutional Court Commissioners. This panel prepares reports to the court relating to the constitutionality of laws contested by citizens or institutions. The Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession welcomed those appointments as an improvement in gender equality in appointment to public office in Egypt, and as a step by Egypt to live up to its international commitment under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. On February 4, 2007, the Grand Sheikh (Mufti) of Egypt Dr. Ali Juma'a has confirmed a woman's right to be "head of state". The Mufti said that the concept of head of state is quite different from the concept of the Muslim Caliph. He explained that women have no right to occupy the position of a "Muslim Caliph" which was part of the old Islamic heritage, but disappeared with the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The Mufti stressed that in principle Islam does not prohibit women from heading a state.

In 2001, the total fertility rate was 3.4 births per woman. Egypt was the first Arab country to adopt a national population policy. The Government adopted a policy to reduce fertility in 1962. Studies have shown that the number and sex of children in a family influence contraceptive use. Women are more likely to use contraception after giving birth to their first three or less children. However, they are less likely to use contraceptive methods if all their children are girls.

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Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

Egypt ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1981, with reservations as to conflicts with Islamic law. Since then, Egypt has made progress toward meeting the convention’s goals with regards to legal and social equality. President Mubarak established a 30-member National Committee on Women to work towards gender equality. Some critics have suggested that the Egyptian government support women’s rights as a strategy to win favor from Western aid donors. Mubarak’s NDP party placed only 11 women on the party list of 444 candidates for the October 2000 Parliamentary elections. The Egyptian parliament as of 2000 has 11 women or only 2.4% of total members, and most of these women were appointed by President Mubarak. In the 2002 local elections, 774 women won seats for local government councils, and of these 750 were NDP candidates.

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Social Forces

Egypt’s First Lady, Suzanne Mubarak, is a champion for the rights of women and children. She is the technical advisor for the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood in Egypt. The Council’s goals are the reinforcement of women's role in society, the study and resolution of problems confronting women, the improvement of women's performance in society, the monitoring of education of children, and the establishment of a healthy environment for children.

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