Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Women win

Despite reservations voiced by some countries, including Egypt, the UN convention on violence against women was unanimously ratified, reports Reem Leila

Al-Ahram Weekly

After 12 days of non-stop discussions, the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) completed its 57th session on 15 March, during which Egypt along with 130 other member states approved a new declaration on the prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls. However, several Arab nations including Egypt, Libya, Iran and Sudan expressed opposition to several articles concerned with female sexual freedom, gay marriage, marital rape, abortion and women’s role in society.
The declaration is non-binding. Head of the National Council for Women (NCW) and a member of Egyptian delegation to New York, Mervat Al-Tellawi said Egypt had its reservations on the accord. “Therefore it agreed on the implementation of the declaration on condition that it is in accordance with Egypt’s legislation and traditions.
“After being approved by CSW member states, the convention will be presented to the UN General Assembly for final adoption, where it will become a moral obligation on the states to be put into action,” said Al-Tellawi who denied claims that the convention breaches Islamic Sharia. She said she believes that although the UN declaration is non-binding, it will pressure non-compliant member states when there is a majority of supporters.
The declaration, according to Al-Tellawi, “is an honour for every Egyptian woman who sacrificed for the nation since 1919, particularly during the 25 January Revolution”.
Al-Tellawi said that since Islamists came to power they had exercised all forms of violence against women. There have been continuous attempts to force women into early marriage, encourage Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), annul khul according to which women can divorce without their husbands’ approval, decrease the age of girls’ custody by mothers from 15 to seven, and force women to wear the veil. “The UN declaration will put an end or at least limit all these violent actions against women,” added Al-Tellawi.
The Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) released a statement on Saturday condemning the declaration, saying it contradicts with the principles of Islam. The statement listed 10 controversial points which the FJP claimed were present in the convention: granting female sexual freedom as well as the freedom to decide their gender; providing contraceptives for adolescent girls as well as legalising abortion under the claim of females’ reproductive rights; providing adulterous wives and illegitimate children with equal rights as those of legal wives and children; giving equal rights to gays as well as protecting and respecting their right in getting married; allowing wives to legally accuse their husbands of rape and sexual harassment; allowing equal inheritance rights among men and women; replacing husbands’ guardianship with partnership; full equality in marriage legislation (thus allowing Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men); taking away the divorce authority from husbands and giving it to legal courts; and abolishing husbands’ consent on matters such as their wives’ work, travel or going out.
Sabah Al-Sakkari, women secretariat of the FJP, said the draft declaration was not criticised by only the Muslim Brotherhood. “Libya, Iran and Sudan along with the International Union for Muslim Scholars denounced it,” Al-Sakkari said.
The Muslim Brotherhood called on leaders of Muslim countries to reject the declaration. It also called on Al-Azhar to denounce it and to provide a clear Islamic viewpoint on issues stated in the convention. “The UN and Western countries are trying to dub Islam and Muslim countries as being fascists and this is unacceptable,” said Al-Sakkari.
Al-Azhar said it was preparing its own manuscript related to women’s rights. Mohamed Mustafa, Al-Azhar’s spokesman, said the document will be announced once it is finished. “Al-Azhar does not yet have any official response to the UN declaration as Al-Azhar officials have to read the document first,” said Mustafa.
Nehad Abul-Qomsan, head of the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights, said the convention referred to previous treaties issued by the UN and signed by all member-states regarding empowerment of women human rights, as well as outlining violence against women. It also called on policy- and decision-makers of member states to issue national laws and legislations which combat violence against women, as well as identifying the causes of violence against girls and women. This is in addition to supporting services provided to females who are victims of violence and improving data and research on violence.
“Egypt has voiced reservations on articles related to inheritance, equality in marriage legislation, and removing the power of only husbands to divorce. Those articles contradict with regulations of Islamic Sharia; accordingly Egypt will not abide by them. I can’t understand the reaction. Egypt has already made its reservations clear, so why all this upheaval?” Abul-Qomsan wondered.
According to Islam, women are granted the right to divorce themselves by khul. According to Law 1/2000, women have the right to obtain a divorce, even without their husbands’ approval, on condition of relinquishing all their financial rights. “There is no need to take away the right of divorce from husbands because Islam has granted the same right to women but in a different form. So both men and women are enjoying equality in freedom,” said Abul-Qomsan.
Articles related to annulling husbands’ consent on wives’ work or travel is accepted in Egypt. In 2000, the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) annulled a decree issued by the minister of interior that required a wife to obtain the permission of her husband before she was issued a passport. The ministerial decree was considered unconstitutional; nobody is authorised to restrict any citizen’s freedom of mobility.
Egypt also had reservations on articles related to inheritance. According to Youssef Alfert, professor of Islamic Sharia at Al-Azhar University, women inherit half a man’s share when the deceased is survived by a son and a daughter, the Quran says: “Allah [thus] directs you as regards your children’s [inheritance]: to the male, a portion equal to that of two females.”
Alfert pointed out that the closer the relation, the larger the heir’s share of the estate. For example, a daughter inherits more than a paternal uncle. She receives half the inheritance if she is the only daughter. If there are more than one, their share in the estate is two-thirds. A wife inherits one-eighth, while a mother inherits one-sixth. The rest of the estate, no matter how small, passes to the paternal uncle or uncles.
“Thus, the daughter of the deceased, although a female, inherits more than his brother, even though he is a male,” said Alfert. There are, however, exceptions to this rule of proximity. “A maternal grandmother inherits the same share as the father of the deceased, although she is not as closely related. Also, a maternal half-sister inherits a share equal to that of a full brother, although she is not as closely related to the deceased,” he added.
According to Abul-Qomsan, the Brotherhood have neither read nor understood the convention. “All claims present in their statement are false allegations, are deceiving and misleading,” said Abul-Qomsan. “For example, they have falsely misinterpreted the article banning FGM by claiming that it allows sexual freedom for girls and women. Their interpretation of the rest of the convention’s articles follows the same path intentionally to mislead people.”

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