Egypt is currently experiencing a period of dramatic political change and was not previously a homogenous country. Well-educated women who live in the cities live in relative equality, while women in other parts of the country are not even allowed to leave their homes without the permission of their husband or family. The majority of women are controlled by written and unwritten rules which restrict their freedom of movement.
Population: 82 million
Religions: Islam 94%, Christianity and other 6 %
Life expectancy: men 68 years, women 73 years (2011)
Literacy rate: total population 71%; men 83%, women 59%
Income inequality: Gini coefficient 0.344 (2001) *
Ranking on the Transparency International list of Corruption Perceptions in 183 countries: 112 (2011) **
Ranking on the UNDP Human Development Index of 146 countries, taking gender equality into account: no information. ***
Maternal deaths: 43 deaths per l00,000 births.
Number of children/woman: 2.97 (estimate for 2011)
Abortion legislation: Abortion is not legal. It is only allowed if the mother’s life is at risk. Very restrictive application.
Law against rape within marriage: No
Violence against women in close relationships: Two women are raped every hour. Only 12 per cent of 2,500 incidents of sexual harassment were reported to the police.
* Gini coefficient:
An economic metric of the inequality seen in a population in, for example, income distribution. The Gini coefficient has a value of between 0 and 1, where 0 implies that the value of assets for each individual is exactly the same (total equality) while 1 represents total inequality. The lower the Gini coefficient for income, the greater the equality in the distribution of salary, profits, welfare benefits and other compensation.
In 2011, Transparency International ranked183 countries according to how widespread corruption was. Position 1 on the list showed the country where corruption was least widespread, position 183 the greatest. Corruption within, for example, the police and judiciary systems, has a noticeable impact on the lives of the women.
*** Gender equality:
Every year, the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, measures human development in the world’s countries taking into account health, education and income, in the Human Development Index, HDI. In 2010 a new index was introduced: GII, Gender Inequality Index, which also takes gender equality into account. The countries are ranked from position 1 downwards.
Swedish Institute of International Affairs
Center for Reproductive Rights
CIA World Factbook
Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation
Is there legislation in place which explicitly states that acts of violence committed against women by someone close to them which take place in private are against the law, and which imposes appropriate punishment on the perpetrator?
There is no description of violence or rape within the family in the penal code.
Article 2 of the former constitution states that the legislation is based on Islamic law. This means there are laws which are based on Sharia and that the courts take the Sharia laws into consideration. The judge can dismiss a case on the grounds that the perpetrator acted in accordance with his religious conviction and fulfilled what is prescribed under Sharia, for example the duty to “discipline” his wife.
Milder punishments may be given for murder committed in the name of honour. The crime of “murder in the name of honour” is not described in law, but in practice the judge can decide that, for example, a father who has killed his daughter has experienced such great shame that he has no choice but to impose a mild punishment.
The penal code allows a special judgment of so-called crimes of passion, for example if the husband has found his wife with another man. There is no such exception for women in the same situation.
Is there a functioning, non-corrupt police force and judiciary which can pass sentence and enforce punishment within a reasonable period of time?
The widespread poverty and corruption have led to huge problems with legal security. It is a well-known fact that the police release perpetrators, mislay evidence and threaten witnesses in exchange for payment. A woman with small means has little chance of obtaining justice – and does not even try. For example, rapes are rarely reported. Only around one woman in ten who has been subjected to violence reports the incident to the police, and half of those women later retract their reports.
Are there accessible and reliable statistics for the incidence of violence against women?
There are some statistics. The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics last investigated the incidence of violence against women in the home in 2005. Almost one in two married women (47.4 per cent) said they had been subjected to physical violence, and 36 per cent to some form of violence (physical or psychological) by their current husband. The incidence of genital mutilation has also been investigated.
The figures are not very reliable. No exact figures are given, and the figures come mainly from smaller surveys which at best provide an approximate picture. Opinion polls have repeatedly given an incorrect picture.
Is it possible for women to support themselves and their children, for example after divorce?
There are some Egyptian women in paid employment outside the home who can support themselves. It is not known how many, although 25 per cent is the figure given in the public statistics.
Since 2004 an insurance system has been in place which guarantees a woman financial support during legal disputes which take place within the framework of family law.
The laws on divorce do not favour women. An Egyptian man has the right to take out a divorce without the consent of the woman, while a woman in the same situation must prove in court that she has been badly treated in the marriage. The alternative is to ask the court for a so-called khul divorce. This means she gives up all her economic rights, that the dowry is repaid, and that the man is not obliged to pay maintenance. For this reason, and also because they fear the social shame and vulnerability, most women choose to remain in the marriage.
Are there shelters for women who want to leave a violent relationship?
Women’s shelters are almost unknown. In 2008 there were eight women’s shelters in the whole of Egypt. Few women choose to seek help outside the family, and when they ask the family they are usually advised to forgive a violent husband.
Has the government explicitly expressed the will to fight the violence by means of public debate and various forms of preventive work, for example in the schools, the legal system and the healthcare system?
The public debate on female circumcision had an effect. The procedure has been forbidden by law since 2008 and since then the number of circumcised schoolgirls has fallen.
During the 2000s the role of the family courts has been strengthened and a special representative has been appointed to help and encourage women to take advantage of their rights.
Suzanne Mubarak, wife of the then President, founded the National Council for Women (NCW), which works both with the authorities and internationally to combat violence against women.
Egypt is in the midst of a period of political turbulence. The work for change has come to a halt and no-one knows whether, and if so when, it will be resumed.
Does society take the view that women are subordinate to men?
In Egypt the man is considered to be the undisputed head of the family, which gives him the right to control. Violence is considered to be a natural part of married life. One Egyptian married woman in two thinks that her husband has the right to beat her if she goes out without his permission, neglects the children, argues or refuses to have sex. Seven in ten married women believe it is right to kill an unmarried girl who becomes pregnant. (However, this opinion is rarely shared by women with higher education.)
Which direction is the fight to end the violence against women going in?
The beginning of a positive development for women could be seen in 2011 during the revolution which led to the resignation of the President. It had become possible to talk openly about genital mutilation. Attitudes have changed. In 1995, six out of ten women said it was natural to be beaten for refusing to have sex; ten years later, only half as many (around 35 per cent) shared that opinion.
At the moment we cannot claim that the situation is in reverse, but neither can we say that it is going in the right direction. Egypt has no constitution and no-one knows how much power parliament will have. It is very difficult to foresee what will happen and what the strong results for the Islamic parties in the recent election will mean for women’s rights.