Egypt/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.10 Gender equality and cultural policies

The culmination of Al-Tahtawi efforts for female education was the establishment of the first female school in 1873 in Sioufia, which was established one of Khedive Ismail Pasha.

Despite the long history of struggle to liberate women and achieve gender equality since the late 19th century, gender discrimination is far from over and has been receding and surging according to the changing socioeconomic conditions.

Over the course of the past three decades, and with the spread of Wahabi culture, hijab and niqab (covering dresses worn by Muslim women) spread also and hard line Muslim figures called for the need for women to stay home and they ignored any call to cancel the legal provisions that discriminate against women, such as article 17 of Penal Code pertaining to crimes of honor.

The Personal Status Law is also full with many articles that not only ignore the humanity of the wife and the mother but also undermine the right of children to live a secure life. The law considers the husband, regardless of the level of his profligacy (addict, non-supporter, unemployed), is the provider of his family and that he has the right to discipline the members of his family according to the nature of mistake as he sees it.

There are many laws that discriminate against women and make society of all categories a masculine dominated world in which females are treated as objects that should only obey orders and accept that they are 2nd class citizens from early childhood because it is the way it is.

And with the deepening economic and social crisis in the Egyptian society recently, the number of sexual harassment incidents increased whether collectively in public occasions or individually committed by harassers in the streets on a daily basis. Sexual harassment became synonymous with the streets of Egypt and tourists are familiar with it before even setting foot in the country since this negative phenomenon is mentioned in the tourist guides alongside Giza pyramids and the Egyptian museum.

The former Interior Minister Habib Al-Adli believed however that the issue of molestation is over exaggerated and he refused to consider it a phenomenon.

Figures published by the Egyptian Center for Human Rights show that 98% of foreign women and 83% of Egyptian women are subject to sexual harassment in Egypt.

Amid this shameful rise many voices called for separation between men and women inside transportation means and dedicate all female buses in different colors. However, these calls seem to be an attempt to avoid discussing the issue and addressing its causes and this type of gender segregation will only deepen the friction and violence.

Egyptian TV dramas adopt ideas that further deepen the discrimination against women under the pretext of traditions, convictions and religion.

According to UNESCO figures issued in 2003, illiteracy rate amongst females reached 53% compared to 42% amongst males over the age of 15.

Egypt has a government-run national center for women which receives complaints and organize literacy programs. As for MOC, the minister promised in his new program (UNESCO election program) which he intends to implement through MOC to support women and the youth.

There are also a number of women's rights institutions that are engaged in women's issues such as the Women's Issues Center, New Woman Foundation, Al-Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Woman Revival Center.

These institutions conduct researches and launch information campaigns to raise pubic awareness and form lobby groups to pressure the government in order to change the discriminatory laws. One of these campaigns resulted in passing a law granting the Egyptian nationality to the children of Egyptian women married to foreigners.

Some of these institutions also give assistance for female family providers in the form of rotating loans and some offer other developmental services such as literacy programs, reproductive health awareness programs, while other institutions such as Woman and Memory conduct cultural activities.

According to the report, “Egyptian women status" , issued by the National Association for Defending Rights and Freedoms , in April 2012 , the role of women after the revolution is still marginalized, women did not get any governor post, women got only 1 to 3 positions in the last few Governments.

Women won only 2% of the parliament seats, which meant only 11 seats, 2 were appointed to their positions and the other 9 women got their positions being on the winning ticket.

A quick comparison between this ratio and its counterparts in both 2010 and 2005 , concludes that the proportion of women's representation in parliament after the revolution was not significantly different from previous elections, the ratio in 2010 was 13.127 % but that is because in 2010 the quota system was applied, which reserved 64 seats for women.

The report concludes that the problem is not the weakness of numerical representation, but also lies in the weak impact of representing women, both in women's and public issues .

The Constituent Assembly to draw up a constitution, gave women only a rate of 6%.

In national legislation, and family law, which was very controversial after the revolution, we heard loud voices calling to modify and even cancel some of these laws inherited from the former regime , these laws were maintained or mildly modified in the new constitution draft, such as the visitation and custodial laws.

At the same time, the presented bill to revoke “extraction” law, which allows women to demand divorce has been turned down.

In terms of other legislations being activated, a special legislation was signed to grant the children of Egyptian women married to Palestinians, the Egyptian nationality; also the military council issued a decree to raise penalties for crimes such as of harassment and rape, up to life imprisonment and the death penalty in some cases.

The report indicates the prominent social role played by women during the protests and demonstrations in the early days of January 25th revolution, and in subsequent events, it also reveals the number of incidents and violations against women, such as the assault on women demonstration in observance of the International Women's Day on March 8th 2011, as well as the forced break down of Tahreer sit-in, where number of protesters , including 18 girls were beaten , dragged & subjected to insults and some of them to the extent of virginity examination, this case created a huge controversy. This is in addition to what has happened during what’s known as the events of Mohamed Mahmoud, when a girl was stripped and dragged by some soldiers.

But, there were some bright spots in the mix of all this, such as women winning seats in professional associations , as well as gaining scientific prizes, in addition to the founding of a number of women's political parties .

The report has not been updated since 2012 but a joint report was published by the International Federation for Human Rights in April 2014, in view of feminist studies conducted on women’s uprising in the Arab world and the New Women Association. The report was entitled “Egypt and the exclusion of women: sexual harassment against women in the public sphere” and tackled the dangers of problems faced by women in Egypt and the major obstacles that hinder women’s participation in the transitional period Egypt is currently going through. The report tackled more than 250 cases of sexual harassment against women participating in protests between November 2012 and January 2014, Tahrir Square being the clearest model and the most frequent locale of sexual harassment in full view of witnesses. In some cases women were raped  not only in the square but also on the streets and public transport.

The report also stated the failure of authorities to engage in proceedings to stop violence against women and the sluggishness of taking the appropriate measures in such incidents. The report added that such crimes continued to take place because of the impunity of criminal perpetrators.

Interim President adviser Adli Mansour made amendments to Law 58 of 1937, concerned with harassment and combating prostitution, as follows: Article 306 is replaced with legal text that focuses on the penalties law issued as Law no. 58 of 1937 that reads: “penalties of imprisonment for at least six months and fines not less than 3,000 Egyptian pounds and not more than 5,000 pounds or either of the penalties for offences , whether in public or private spaces, pertaining to sexual references or suggestions whether verbal or active by any means, including means of wireless  or wired communication.”     

Despite these legislations, during the celebrations for the appointment of new President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Tahrir Square an incident of sexual harassment of the utmost violence was witnessed and captured by cameras. The violent incident circulated social media and led to official and public denouncement. The President visited the victim at the hospital and personally apologized to her and all the women of Egypt for what had happened. A number of human rights organizations commended the presidential visit and thanked the Egyptian official response, but these organizations also demanded decisive action that has not been implemented. Among the human rights organizations that responded was the National Association for the Defense of Rights and Freedoms that documented the events in its report published on 17 June 2014.     

Chapter published: 01-04-2016