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Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Egypt: Power to women

Women are expecting, from the president, a balanced personal status law

Reem Leila , Thursday 25 Mar 2021

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has eased women’s worries regarding a controversial draft personal status law. During a ceremony marking Egypt’s Mother’s Day on 21 March, the president confirmed the importance of supporting and empowering Egyptian women.

Al-Sisi reassured women that the new law will only come out “balanced,” reiterating he would not sponsor a law that does not do justice to women. “There will be a societal dialogue in order to come up with a law that would serve the interests of everyone: mother, father and child,” confirmed the president.

Lawyer Nehad Abul-Qomsan, head of the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights (ECWR), noted that the president’s comments were “a great relief for women and their children. The president has called for going about drafting the law through a dialogue that will include concerned entities, experts and feminists, thus guaranteeing the issuance of a balanced draft that would realise the welfare of all involved parties,” said Abul-Qomsan who was a strong opponent of the initial draft of the bill.

She said Egypt’s feminists were sure that the president would not have allowed what they described as an unjust law to be passed and approved by the country’s parliament. Al-Azhar will be involved in the societal dialogue, thus guaranteeing a balanced draft that would add to women’s rights, she added.

Maya Morsi, president of the National Council for Women (NCW) who attended the ceremony, confirmed that the president’s political will has always been in support of women. According to Morsi, Egypt now ranks 66 in the representation of women in parliamentary bodies globally, up from 135. “It was impossible for the president not to support women in such a vital issue. He has been -- as usual -- up to women’s expectations,” added Morsi.

Al-Sisi’s statement came as a relief to many women amidst heated controversy sparked by the new draft personal status law which was sent to parliament by the Cabinet for debate. The draft, which makes changes to marriage and divorce, child custody, inheritance and death, was widely rejected by feminists and NGOs who claim it is based on a regressive and strict jurisprudential school.

Last week many Egyptian women initiated a social media campaign under the hashtag #guardianship_is _my _right via the Women and Memory Society in which they shared personal stories on how the current personal status law would hinder their right in making decisions for themselves and their children without the approval of a male guardian.

The cabinet’s draft of the personal status bill treated women as a minority, giving them no legal control over any personal matters and keeping them under the care of their closest male relative. It deprives women of the right to choose their spouse, upholding the ability of any male member in the family to annul her marriage contract for any reason. Also, any male member in the family can prevent a woman from travelling regardless of the reason. It also granted the father the right to custody over maternal female relatives, affecting the child’s welfare.

During the ceremony, the president also asked parliament to take the necessary measures to pass a separate law from that of personal status to ban child marriage. The law would stipulate explicitly the legal age of marriage and impose severe penalties on violators.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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