Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1144, 18 - 24 April 2013
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1144, 18 - 24 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Pushed back

Since the 2011 revolution, women have been losing many of the rights they previously fought for and won, reports Reem Leila

Al-Ahram Weekly



Although women participated in the 25 January Revolution, one of whose goals was freedom, they did not gain any more rights than they already had. On the contrary, repercussions appeared in the form of attempts to annul laws which provided them with several rights during the rule of former president Hosni Mubarak. Rights which women gained on the political and social arena are now being strongly opposed by Islamists who believe that women should be lower in rank with almost no rights despite the bountiful rights which Islam provided her with.

It was reported in newspapers on 14 April that Minister of Justice Ahmed Mekki was forming a specialised committee to revise the personal status law in order to amend articles related to children’s visitation rights, custody and educational guardianship.

Non-custodian parents have been demonstrating for the past days in front of the Ministry of Justice against the current personal status law regulating visitation rights. Children with divorced parents live with only one of them, usually the mother, as long as they have not reached 15. If the parents come to an amiable agreement regarding the visitation rights, there is no problem. Problems start when parents disagree on visitation rights and the matter is then brought to court. Normally the father goes to court asking for his visitation rights. According to the current law number 62/1976, parental visits which are supervised by an official employee appointed by the court are to be conducted once a week for three hours in a public place in order to guarantee the children’s safety.

Fathers, who are mostly the non-custodian parents, argue that these visits are usually conducted in a hostile atmosphere where they and the children cannot play, hold, hug or even talk freely with the child. Most non-custodian parents demand the law modified to increase visiting hours and to be allowed to accompany the children to their homes for one or two days. Custodian parents disagree, stating that fathers who most of the time do not financially support their children, usually take advantage of visitation hours to fight with the mothers and portray them as some sort of monsters in front of their children. Some go as far as kidnapping the children.

The current law is to be amended to increase visitation hours to 10 instead of the current three on condition that the father fulfils his financial and parental duties and provides proper emotional support for his children. According to Fawzia Abdel-Sattar, professor of law at Cairo University, it is noteworthy that many cases in court prove that mostly women and children suffer abuse from men due to their failure in realising their duties. Abdel-Sattar argued that many fathers do not show up during visitation hours. Children wait for long hours to see their fathers but they (fathers) do not come. Additionally, the court and police stations are full of cases regarding charges by custodian parents against the non-custodian party of kidnapping the child during visitation hours. “Children come out of these experiences depressed and suffering psychological trauma,” Abdel-Sattar said.

Among other articles to be amended by the committee is children’s custody. According to the current law, mothers are given their children’s custody, whether boy or girl, until the age of 15. The law was unanimously approved by Al-Azhar and the Islamic Research Centre (IRC), as it does not contradict the regulations of Islamic Sharia. The law, though, is to be amended to change the age of custody for the sake of mothers.

Non-custodian parents have been stirring up public opinion against the personal status law regulating children’s custody, as they feel it is unfair to them and is damaging their relationship with their children. Hossam Al-Shanshouri, founder of the Egyptian Organisation for Children of Divorced Parents which came into effect in 2008, said children whether girls or boys must be under their father’s custody “because he is the only one who is capable of raising children better than the mother. It is unfair to keep children with their mothers until they turn 15. Who would like to stay with the father after living with the mother for many years? Of course, no one. Children need their father in order to feel safe. Mothers are weak and cannot offer such feelings to their youngsters,” argued Al-Shanshouri.

In response to Mekki’s intentions, the National Council for Women (NCW) sent a letter to the minister stating it was inappropriate to amend such a law during this critical time. According to the statement, the current Shura Council is temporary and its legislative role is limited to emergencies until the parliamentary elections are held. “Amending legislation of the personal status law is not an essential matter for the time being,” the statement said.

The NCW, according to Law 90/2000, is the only official entity authorised to revise, amend and create any laws related to women. According to Mervat Al-Tellawi, head of the NCW, a few protests conducted in front of the Ministry of Justice is not a good reason to change such laws during this critical time. “Amending such laws should be done as a whole but not partially. A new personal status law should be initiated in order to have a balanced and strong law as in Morocco,” said Al-Tellawi and added, “the council beseeches all authorities concerned to refrain from making any amendments on the current personal status law in order not to cause further splits in society.”

Again, for many years, women’s representation in parliament has been an issue of controversy. According to the election law, every Proportional Registration (PR) list must include one female candidate, but does not oblige the party to put a woman in winnable positions on the list, thus leading to very weak representation of women in the parliament.

Since women gained the right of political participation in 1956, their representation in elected parliaments has differed, but was usually marginal. Female representation varied between 0.5 and 2.4 per cent. In 1979, Egypt first applied a 30-seat quota for female candidates, but revoked it in 1988 after its constitutionality was challenged. At that time women took a relatively high percentage of parliament’s seats. During parliamentary sessions of 1979-1984 women occupied nine per cent of seats, and 8.3 per cent from 1984-1987. 

After the 25 January Revolution many called for the annulment of the quota system claiming it was unconstitutional. The quota system secured 64 seats for women in the parliament. Manal Abul-Hassan, a professor of mass media in Al-Azhar University and an associate of the Muslim Brotherhood, said the quota system was a way for the previous regime to curry favour with Egypt’s liberal, secular elite and the international community without changing conservative attitudes on the ground of relinquishing any political control. “All women who won seats were members of the dismantled National Democratic Party candidates,” said Abul-Hassan.

In response to Abul-Hassan, Al-Tellawi believes that if every political party was to put one female candidate in second place on their list, it is likely that such a candidate would secure a small, but significant portion of seats. However, if larger parties positioned a female nominee third on the list, instead of second, then the number of female contesters who win will drastically decrease. It remains to be seen how female candidates will be able to run fairly for individual candidate seats. The 2010 parliamentary elections data indicated that female candidates who were running for individual candidate seats did poorly. 

The parliamentary quota was vital for woman. “I am afraid that due to engrained sexism and political pessimism in Egypt, it may end up creating a worse situation for female candidates than their earlier situation. I also expect that they will strip women of the gains they enjoyed in the previous years,” Al-Tellawi said. At the same time, the NCW head pointed out, “many people, not only women, do not want to play any role in future political life, at least for now. They prefer to go through such an experience a few years later down the road, when matters are more stable and clearer.”

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