In an effort to cement their meager rights, Egyptian women fought against a “shocking” bill influenced by Islamic law that would deepen a guardianship system further restricting their daily lives.
Nutritionist Mai Nasser recalled how difficult things were already for her mother after her parents divorced when she was a baby.
âWhenever I needed papers to change schools, to travel or to access government service, I had to wait for my father’s signature overseas,â wrote Nasser, now in his 30s, on social networks.
She used a widely shared hashtag “#guardianship_is_my_right”, a campaign by feminist groups and women seeking to regain power over their lives launched in response to proposals presented to the Egyptian parliament earlier this year.
The bill would have “imposed the guardianship of a man – whether father, husband or brother – on a woman,” said Hoda Elsadda, professor of literature at Cairo University and president of the Women and Memory Forum . rights group.
“He even granted the father or brother the right to forcibly annul a daughter or sister’s marriage to a man on the grounds that he came from a different social background.”
The bill has been dropped for the time being amid the outcry.
But proposed changes to the Personal Status Law included the inability of women to travel abroad without the consent of a male guardian and the prohibition on mothers registering the birth certificate or passport of a child.
This would have deprived “women of their legal capacity and set Egypt back some 200 years,” said Nehad Abo El-Komsan, a feminist activist and president of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, who called the bill of “shocking”.
Women’s political rights have improved in recent years – there are currently eight female ministers, or nearly a quarter of the cabinet. And women hold some 168 seats in parliament out of 569.
Under the constitutional reforms adopted in 2019, women must represent at least 25% of deputies in the lower house.
But in their daily life, women have no authority over their children or over their personal lives, rights which are delegated to the men in their families.
– No rights on children –
Elsadda noted that since Egypt’s founding as a modern state in the 19th century, women have been marginalized and their rights relegated.
“In 1956, Egyptian women were granted political rights such as voting, running for office and reaching the highest levels of the state, but the personal status law has remained the same since its adoption in 1920,” a- she declared.
“Women do not have the legal capacity that allows them to have guardianship over themselves and their children and puts them under the control of male relatives,” she added.
Earlier this month, the country’s Supreme Judicial Council decided at a meeting chaired by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to allow women for the first time to work in the prosecution and the Council of State.
But Omnia Taher, a law professor at Al-Azhar University, said the decision was an “aesthetic change.”
There is “great fear that this decision will appoint a group of women judges on an exceptional basis. Gender discrimination will not be eliminated,” she said.
Taher launched an initiative called “She is entitled to the bar” after being refused an appointment in 2013 as a judge at the Council of State.
Elsadda also remains skeptical of recent changes, pointing out how women constantly face bureaucratic barriers.
“The minister who represents the state in international summits has no legal guardianship over her children,” she said, and for example cannot recover vital papers such as school leaving certificates ” without the presence of the father “.
Women also cannot control their children’s bank accounts, as fathers are the legal guardians of the children.
“The bank manager who manages funds … worth millions cannot deposit money for her children into their savings accounts … from her own money,” Elsadda added.
– The best imam weighs –
In May, the Cairo-based Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the main theological institution representing Sunni Muslims around the world, weighed in on the debate.
Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb said on Twitter that there is no religious edict preventing women from holding high-ranking positions, traveling on their own or having an appropriate share of inheritance taxes.
And he added that “their guardians could not prevent them from marrying without a valid reason.”
But he stopped before saying that women should have the same rights as men.
And some believe that the only way to protect women’s rights is to enshrine them in civil law.
The personal status law “must be civil, otherwise we will remain in a crisis of religious interpretation all the time,” said journalist Raneem Al-Afifi, who has launched a campaign to strengthen gender coverage in the media.
She fears the bill has been shelved as “a temporary measure to appease the anger of women.”
“The contradiction remains between the rights that they (women) have in the public sphere and the lack of rights in the private sphere,” admitted Elsadda.