Egyptian Parliament - File Photo Egyptian Parliament - File Photo

MPs call for equal gender representation in judicial system

Tue, Nov. 14, 2017
CAIRO – 14 November 2017: The Egyptian constitution provides that women, equal to men, are appointed in all state posts including key judicial positions; this was the female members of the parliament’s argument as they urged the state council to ensure proper application of the constitution and to preserve women’s right to be judges.

In several articles, the constitution emphasizes the right of women to hold any position in the state, equal to men, and that preventing women from accessing a particular position is one form of discrimination against them that violates the constitution and all international conventions ratified and adopted by Egypt.

These articles include article 11 which explains that, “The State shall ensure the achievement of equality between women and men in all civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution. The State shall take the necessary measures to ensure the appropriate representation of women in the houses of representatives, as specified by Law. The State shall also guarantee women’s right of holding public and senior management offices in the State and their appointment in judicial bodies and authorities without discrimination. The State shall protect women against all forms of violence and ensure enabling women to strike a balance between family duties and work requirements. The State shall provide care to and protection of motherhood and childhood, female heads of families, and elderly and neediest women.”

And article 53 that reads, “All citizens are equal before the Law. They are equal in rights, freedoms and general duties, without discrimination based on religion, belief, sex, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation or any other reason. Discrimination and incitement of hatred is a crime punished by Law. The State shall take necessary measures for eliminating all forms of discrimination, and the Law shall regulate creating an independent commission for this purpose.”

Discussions on women’s rights to access the judicial system were intense in the parliament on Tuesday as female MPs called for laws and policies that respect, empower and protect women and their rights to access all state positions. They also called to examine the fairness of the current recruitment procedures to ensure that there is no discrimination against women based on their gender, and they requested to question the Minister of Justice and State Council.

This women’s rights crisis was triggered by Umniah Gadallah; a top class law female graduate that was rejected when she applied for a judge position in the State Council, for no other reason but her gender.

Gadallah first filed a case against the state council in 2014 for refusing her enrolment in the council, citing that there is an abuse by the council towards women’s appointments. She appealed again in 2016 and in February 2018 the Supreme Administrative Court will hear Gadallah’s appeal.

“Why should I not be appointed after four years now? Why is the State Council the opponent and the judge at the same time?” Gadallah remarked to Egypt Today on her case. Gadallah further explained that the number of female judges does not exceed half the number of male judges with 66 female judges and 16,000 male judges according to the latest statistics by the Ministry of Justice. She added that the State Council remains the only institution strongly rejecting the appointment of women.

She also noted that the State Council practice is against the laws, the constitution, and international agreements that support gender equality and women participation. Also, she said that the State Council transferred her case to the Supreme Administrative Court and prevented her from appealing to the administrative judiciary first.

Egypt Today spoke to several MPs on the issue and the suggested draft laws that aim to ensure a non-discriminatory policy and procedure for appointing women in the judicial system. MP and assistant professor at the University of Alexandria, Suzy Adly Nashed, said that she will submit a draft law that would force the State Council to appoint female judges. She said that the draft law adopts and reflects all constitution articles which call for equality between men and women in all fields. She said that the State Council is the only judicial institution in Egypt that does not welcome female judges, while other state institutions do not experience the same issue.

She said, “This is not a privilege, it is womea’s right and must be realized especially with President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi declaring 2017 the year of women.”

Nashed pointed out that women are represented in administrative prosecution, ordinary judiciary, and constitutional judiciary; explaining that it is about time to see women represented in the state council. She also explained that the proposed law, will call for similar selection criteria to be applied on both genders and for professionalism to be the only condition for appointment.

Nashed also noted that “the rationale of using biological factors to forbid women from being judges is unreasonable. Women in Egypt have occupied high positions, such as cabinet ministers, and succeeded. Why didn’t their biological makeup stand in their way then?”

Salah Fawzi, a professor of constitutional law and member of the Supreme Committee for Legislative Reform in the parliament, noted that he strongly supports the proposed draft law by MP Suzy Adly Nashed. He pointed out that in 2009 the General Assembly of the State Council took a decision to exclude women from appointment in the Council; despite clearly contradicting the constitution. The discussion led to several lawsuits being filed by female graduates of law school, as they were prevented from pursuing any position at the State Council.

Following the 2009 decision, in 2010 Justice Minister Mamdouh Marei sent a letter to the Supreme Constitutional Court to seek its advice on the State Council’s decision. The court replied that the Council has the right to make its own policy on the matter. Later, the State Council formed a three-member committee that ultimately agreed on four items that lead to delaying the appointment of women as judges and affirmed the right of women to be hired for technical positions provided there are no Sharia, constitutional or legal constraints preventing it. Yet despite this theoretical affirmation, the committee noted that there were practical constraints preventing women from assuming such positions for the time being.

MP Dina Abdel Aziz, a political and economic researcher representing Helwan district in Cairo, said to Egypt Today that the Constitution guarantees full equality of genders in all posts. Therefore, there is no justification for rejecting the appointment of women as judges. She said that she will request an explanation on this matter from the Minister of Justice, Mohamed Hossam Abdel-Rahim.

Women’s battle against the State Council began in 1952, when Aisha Rateb, a lawyer, filed suit against the council, calling for the appointment of women to judicial positions. Rateb took the step after the State Council announced its need for assistant delegates, but refused to appoint her. The State Council held that the time had not yet come for women to occupy judicial positions. Although Rateb lost her suit, she succeeded in serving in other senior positions and became ambassador to Denmark and minister of Social Affairs and Security in the 1970s.

In 2003, Tahani Al-Gebali became the first woman to hold a judicial position in Egyptian history as she held the position of Vice President of the Supreme Constitutional Court, the highest court in Egypt, until 2007.

Also in 2015, Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zind announced during a press conference on “Female Judges in the Arab World”, the intention to appoint female judges which he described as “part of a plan by the justice ministry to eliminate all hurdles facing women’s work in the judiciary.” As a result, 26 women were appointed in the primary jurisdiction. This was the third group of female judges to be appointed in Egypt’s judiciary, with 42 having been appointed two stages earlier, prior to 2008.
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