CAIRO – 1 December 2017: It is surreal the types of physical, psychological, and sexual violence that women face on a near-daily basis around the world, and even more so in Egypt. To tackle this issue, the Egyptian government has taken to setting many different rules that aim to protect women, ensure their inclusion and participation in everyday life, and edge women’s fight for equality forward. This article explores these laws, highlighting some that may be lacking or perhaps not abided by due to stigma or cultural beliefs.
The two main legislations protecting and supporting women are the Egyptian Constitution of 2014 and the Criminal Code of 1937 with its amendments. Crimes against women in Egypt are divided into two groups: misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors, such as catcalling or sexual harassment, are seen as less significant crimes than felonies, and are usually punished by fines and short-term jail time; the trails are also shortened. Felonies, like FGM, rape, kidnapping a female, or sexual assault, are punished by longer jail time, and a permanent record is placed for those convicted.
In the case of sexual assault, according to the Criminal Chamber of the Court of Cassation in Ruling No. 289 of April 24, 1950, there is no need to prove that the offender had complete sexual intercourse with the victim against the victim’s will. It is sufficient for the offender to touch the victim with their hands, reproductive organs or device against the victim’s will. To ensure justice, Ruling No. 4794 of February 14, 1985 was amended to add that the assailant must have had mental intent, meaning that it was not accidental. Law No. 11 of 2011 was later added to increase the penalty against attackers of children under the age of 18, under article 269 of the Criminal Code, to three to fifteen years in prison.
Although previously denounced, FGM was further condemned in 2008. In August 2016, Article 242(bis) of the Criminal Code suggested that the punishment of performing FGM is imprisonment with hard labor for up to 15 years.
Over the past three decades, the government has also introduced many reforms to improve the living standards of women. In 2000, the groundbreaking Khula Law, known as Law 1 of 2000, allowed women to file for divorce, in registered and unregistered marriages, without the husband’s consent. During the same year, Egypt also saw the establishment of the right for women to apply for a passport and travel without the husband’s consent.
Law 10 of 2004 introduced the Family Courts, allowing women to demand their rights and seek legal protection from domestic violence. Building on Law 10, Law 11 of 2004 established the Family Insurance Fund, a system through which women can collect court-ordered alimony and child support money. Law 154 was also changed in 2004 to allow children of Egyptian mothers and a foreign father to have equal citizenship rights; in the past, one could only be an Egyptian citizen if their father is Egyptian.
Demonstration on International Women's Day, Cairo, March 8, 2013 - Newscom/ Romain Beurrier
In 2008, reforms were also made to extend the mother’s legal custody to 15 years of age, raise the legal age of marriage to 18, and allow children to take their mother’s name, if their father is not proven.
Articles 11, 52, 60, 67, 71, 80 and 89 of the 2014 Constitution ensure the protection of women against violence, torture, mutilation and organ trade, incitement of violence against women or specific women-based groups, “imfringement of individual honor”, sexual exploitation and assault, and human trafficking, respectively.
The first of its kind, the Violence Against Women (VAW) unit 2015-2020 aims to help women who report violent crimes by offering them social and psychological support. Although a groundbreaking establishment, the unit has not yet started functioning as regularly as it is supposed to. The strategy also aims to stop negative behavior against women at its roots by educating people and raising public awareness.
Egypt, like Jordan and Djibouti, also has a quota for women in parliament and Local Council. Since 2016, women have had ten percent of parliamentary seats and 25 percent of the Local Council seats allocated to them. Unlike Djibouti, Egypt still does not have a law that secures women’s equal remuneration for equal work and non-discrimination based on gender when hiring.
Recent law reforms, under the leadership of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, have managed to curb the percentage of women harassed or assaulted – physically, psychologically or sexually. To fill his 28 parliamentary seats, which are the Egyptian president’s prerogative to fill, Sisi appointed an equal number of women and men, including women in high-level positions in the economic sector. Egypt’s National Council of Women, as well as grassroots organizations and non-governmental organizations, have also actively sought to develop action plans and raise public awareness.
Although 61 percent of girls between 15 and 17 have had Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or cutting, according to Youm7, women today are more likely to report incidents, get listened to and have their perpetrator convicted. There are more and more assailants being held accountable every day. However, there is much room for improvement. Perhaps it is time for Egypt to develop a permanent National Action Plan (NAP) for the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, as it has established a NAP against human trafficking in 2011-2013.
The 16 Days of Activism against the Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Campaign aims to both reflect on violence against women and remind people that they can take action now and throughout the year to eliminate that violence in all its forms. The campaign is an annual international campaign that starts on November 25, the International Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and ends on December 10, the Human Rights Day. It highlights the indelible fact that any form of violence against girls and women is a human rights violation. The 16 days also overlap with the International Women Human Rights Defenders Day on November 29.
This article is part of Egypt Today’s campaign “Break the Silence ... Say No to Violence” marking the 16-Day campaign of activism against gender-based violence GBV from November 25 to December 10.