Last week, Al-Azhar’s Association for Supreme Scholars finished outlining the Women’s Rights Document which will serve as a reference for drafting legislation related to women’s issues.
Since the 25 January Revolution, members of the association have been working on the document which has come up with a strategy for women to upgrade their rights and change their social culture.
The association is comprised of 40 veteran scholars of all four Islamic doctrines and is headed by Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb. The association also includes educational experts, media people and social experts.
The document includes seven sections which will be the basis for drafting legislation related to women’s issues. It has a list of the basic rights of women, who are half the society. It aims at developing a future vision which would be in accordance with Islamic Sharia, and change people’s — mainly men’s — concept about women and their role in society. Mahmoud Azab, advisor to Al-Tayeb, said the document will reassure the status of women in Islam, and confirms that Sharia ensures women’s rights “at a time when they are suffering from restrictions”.
The release of the document coincides with disputes among female activists, specialists and the general public on the lack of many women’s rights in the country’s new constitution. “Islam provided women many rights that aren’t found in other religions and this document will protect these rights. There are many rights that women need, such as the right to education and work. This is in addition to women’s rights in obtaining children’s custody until the age of 15 for both boys and girls, and khul’ (right of a woman to divorce). Al-Azhar will play an important role in defending these rights,” said Azab.
The document stresses the importance of women’s humanitarian and social role in society. It says men and women are equal in rights and duties politically and economically, culturally, socially and legally.
The document stipulates that a woman has an independent legal and financial identity, a legitimate right to inheritance while the government must guarantee that each woman receives her fair share of inheritance.
The women’s document also states that she has the right to marry and choose whom she desires as long as the man is of at least the same social and financial level. Also a woman has the right to end this relationship by using her right of khul’.
The government, according to the document, must guarantee a woman’s right in education. Girls should be provided with the same opportunities in education without any discrimination.
Women have the right to work and be given equal opportunities as men. In case the government cannot provide these opportunities it must support women financially in order to live in a proper house and educate her children. Women should also be supported by the government in case of disability.
The document stipulates that a woman has the right to live in a safe atmosphere. Accordingly, it’s the government’s role to safeguard women against attacks such as sexual harassment and other assaults in the street or at home.
Women throughout history have played an eminent role in the political arena. They have the right to be a member of any of the country’s parliaments, whether the Shura Council or lower house. Also, the document said women have the right to be appointed in high-ranking positions. Meanwhile, women have the right to participate in voluntary work in order to enhance the surrounding community. “Therefore, decision-makers must work on winning these rights when issuing laws. They should take into consideration these rights,” said Azab.
Women enjoyed all these rights during the Prophet’s time. “Currently, women are still struggling to gain some of their rights,” said Amna Nosseir, a professor of Islamic philosophy at Al-Azhar University. “Women in Islam used to enjoy all their rights, but today they have to resort to the courts to get them,” added Nosseir.
Mervat Al-Tellawi president of the National Council for Women (NCW), believes that Al-Azhar should play a better role in changing social culture and maintaining a woman’s Islamic identity. “In addition to this document, it should publish and translate booklets in various languages, about women and their role in Islam. These booklets should be distributed to all Western countries in order to allow and help them know that Islam gives women many rights,” said Al-Tellawi.
Al-Tellawi believes that this document is the only answer to fatwas (religious edicts) against women’s rights. She condemned the stance of the political Islamist current on women’s rights, saying, “They use Islamic Sharia and religion to isolate women. Their fatwas are the greatest insult to the Islamic religion, and have a negative impact no less than that of films insulting religion.”
Al-Tellawi expected a fierce attack from Islamists with regard to the document and their continued efforts to change Egypt’s position in relation to it. She pointed to non-governmental organisations which have joined in this attack, such as Camellia Helmi, head of the Islamic Committee for the Rights of the Child, which drafted “the counter statement” to the document. At the same time, Al-Tellawi announced the NCW’s preparation of a document on women’s political, economic and social rights, in coordination with civil society organisations.