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The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights

International Women's Day

Before beginning a new century
Stop all forms of discrimination against women

8 March 1999

On Women's Day, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) expresses
deep concern about the continuation of an environment that disregards
women's rights stipulated in the Constitution and international human
rights instruments ratified by the Egyptian Government. Although human
rights violations affect both women and men, women in Egypt are still the
victims of systematic violations on the basis of gender. Every year Women's
Day comes and Egyptian women remain in the same legal, social and cultural
fetters which make her status as a citizen incomplete and often violate
their dignity.

On the legal level, the EOHR sees with deep concern the continuation in the
legal framework of many provisions that are discriminatory against women. A
clear example of this may is the family law, which still downgrades women
with respect to marriage and divorce. Also, the EOHR considers the
Nationality Law 26/1975 as a flagrant case of discrimination against women.
This law hampers the right of Egyptian women married to foreign men to pass
their Egyptian nationality to their children. While the law gives Egyptian
men married to foreign women such right, in the case of Egyptian women
married to foreign men this right hinges on the decision of the Minister of
Interior. Likewise, the Penal Code, issued in 1937, also contains
provisions discriminatory against women's dignity and is biased towards
men. The Code widens the criminal responsibility of women for the crime of
adultery and stipulates stiffer punishments for them, while it deals with
men in a very different manner. The justification given for this is that in
such cases, 'the husband is extremely provoked', as if being extremely
provoked can happen to men only. 

On the economic and social levels, the EOHR sees that the negative impacts
of the new economic policies, while affecting all vulnerable groups of
society, have a double effect on women and children. This situation is
aggravated by the new legal provisions concerning labour, which neglect the
rights of workers in general, and of working women in particular. For
instance, the new Unified Labour Law constitutes a step back for Egyptian
working women with respect to rights previously enjoyed by them in matters
such as pregnancy leave. Also, the EOHR is seriously concerned about the
escalation of domestic and social violence, as women are the main victims
of this type of violence. On the cultural level, the EOHR is disturbed by
the unfavorable treatment given to women, which may be seen clearly in two
current areas of discussion. First, on the much debated issue of the right
of women to be appointed judges, the organization is puzzled that such a
debate occurs now, nearing the beginning of a new century. The EOHR would
like to stress that the refusal of the right of women to enter the
judiciary has no constitutional or legal basis but is rooted in tradition,
which is in turn based on a culture of discrimination and therefore becomes
more powerful than the law and the Constitution. The second issue currently
under discussion is the right of girls and young women victims of rape to
have their virginity restored through a surgical procedure. The EOHR
considers that this debate reflects a mentality that devalues women's
dignity and deals with women as the holders of the family's honour.
However, such mentality overlooks the fact that a surgical procedure can
never give back to a woman her violated dignity. 

The EOHR takes the celebration of Women's Day as an opportunity to reaffirm
the need to respect human rights and dignity, and to achieve equality
between men and women. It therefore urges the Egyptian authorities to stop
all forms of discrimination against women. In order to achieve this, it is
necessary to amend the legal framework in accordance with the Constitution
and the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination against Women. In this respect, the EOHR calls on the
Egyptian Government to ratify article 9, paragraph two of this Convention,
which states that"States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men
with respect to the nationality of their children." Also, the EOHR calls on
Egyptian civil society to unite in defence of human rights in general, and
of women's rights in particular, and to support and empower all women
organizations and those that work in the field of women's rights. Finally,
the EOHR calls on all defenders of women's rights and all social forces,
governmental and non-governmental, to promote women's political
participation, as membership of women in the current parliament does not
exceed two per cent.

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This document is published online by Derechos Human Rights. Derechos works against violations to human rights and humanitarian law all over the world.