Five Years of Egyptian Women’s Rights Recapitulated: Freedom House Assessment

March 9, 2010

The report states that, generally, women’s rights in Egypt have improved over the past five years. It notes that legal impediments that had previously propagated discrimination have been addressed and modified, yet the country’s dire economic situation, along with its socially conservative disposition, have been cited as the main variables inhibiting “women’s ability to translate legal rights into lived realities”.

The report covers the year 2004 till 2009 and as such excludes recent developments regarding the State Council’s decision to ban the appointment of female judges.

It acknowledges a number of favorable legal reforms including the Nationality law amendment in 2004 allowing Egyptian mothers to pass their nationality to their children, although the law still maintains some of its previous restrictions for example prohibiting “citizenship for children of Egyptian mothers and Palestinian fathers”. Nevertheless, in 2008, Egypt lifted its reservation on the aforementioned article.

Moreover, according to the report, Egypt has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1981 and yet one of its reservations concerned article 9(2) that allows women to pass on their nationality to their children.

The amendment of article 62 in 2007, calling for “minimum representation of women in parliament” has also been credited to the government. The Supreme Judicial Council’s decision in 2008 allowing for women to become judges has been cited as well, not foreseeing the current situation.

The report also mentioned the 2008 child law amendments that increased the minimum age of marriage to 18 in addition to criminalizing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

On the other hand, the report criticizes the adverse effects of other unmodified laws on women’s rights. Article 17 of Egypt’s penal code, for example, has been condemned for its leniency in penalizing the perpetrators of honor killings. It also denounced the fact that the law defines the crime of adultery differently for women and men.

Overall, however, the report states the main problem women in Egypt are facing is the societal constraints that undermine the implementation of the laws legislated. It makes reference to article 11 of the constitution which “obligates the state to harmonize women’s duties toward their families with their ‘work in society'”. The allusion here, as stated in the report, is to the potential clash that might arise between women rapidly attaining more rights and how that might lead to violations in Islamic jurisprudence.

Note: The complete version of the report can be accessed @http://freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=384&key=253&parent=24&report=86

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