CAIRO: The Cabinet has refused a request made by NGO Nazra for Feminist Studies to allow women to join The Supreme Committee for Legislative Reform, drawing criticism from many of the country’s women’s rights groups.
A joint statement released by Nazra and 14 other NGOs Saturday said that though the Cabinet finally decided to reply to their request, they refused it with the excuse that the National Council for Women already has the right to review law articles concerning women.
The statement added that the Cabinet response said it has no obligation to allow women to join the committee, even if they are law experts.
Nazra wrote in response that ignoring their demands is in violation of article 11 of the Constitution, which states that, “Women should be represented in Parliament and legal committees according to the law, as they have the right to be appointed in the judicial bodies without any kind of discrimination.”
Moreover, the statement added that the legislative system in Egypt suffers from discrimination in many of its laws.
“We are reissuing the same demands to avoid repeating the same mistakes committed by past regimes by giving the opportunity for female legal experts to join the committee, as this also guarantees that women will be represented in the State’s different bodies,” the Nazra statement said.
The Supreme Committee for Legislative Reform was established last June by presidential decree with the mission of reviewing laws issued by the president or the Cabinet, and suggesting amendments to ensure the laws remain constitutional.
A long history of discrimination on the bench
The Cabinet’s rebuttal of Nazra is the latest of frequent rejections to allowing women’s involvement in the legislative and judicial processes.
A group of women who graduated at the top of their class in 2013 from the faculty of sharia and law at Al-Azhar University lost their right to be appointed to the State Council as judges due to what was perceived by some as sexist discrimination. However, men who graduated in the same year were allowed to apply for the same positions.
A lawsuit was filed on behalf of the women, and after seven months of delays, it was decided on Oct. 14 that the Supreme Administrative Court would hear the case.
Omnia Gadalla, one of rejected women, told The Cairo Post last August that many women applied, but most of them gave up hope along with the lawsuit believing it may take too long and ultimately be a lost cause.
She added that she was surprised and shocked that many of her male colleagues were unsupportive and called the lawsuit a waste of time. Moreover, they tried to tell the women that they—the men—would be priority hires because they were unemployed.
“Are these really the kind of people who are going to be judges?” Gadalla asked.
“In the beginning we were about 40 women, but now I can’t say how many stayed and who gave up,” Asmaa Abd Al-Azem, another plaintiff from the case, told The Cairo Post.
Tharwat Badawy, a constitutional law professor, told The Cairo Post last August that long ago the first woman to apply for the position being sought by the plaintiffs was Aisha Rateb, who graduated from the law faculty at Cairo University among the first batch of its students 1949. When she applied to become a judge in the State Council, it was a first for Egypt.
However, Rateb was not accepted despite finishing her papers and being among the top of her class. She filed a lawsuit against the council itself, but they handed it back to her and said it was “not appropriate” for women to be judges, Badawy said.
“The verdict has stayed the same throughout time and until present day. For the same reasons Rateb’s suit was rejected by the Council, other women in her situation were refused later entry to the council,” Badawy said. “Despite the Constitution saying the basic rule is ‘equality,’ the judges still have a space to say what’s appropriate or not.”
Badawy, however, was hopeful that eventually a new judge may cancel the verdict banning women from being appointed as judges in the State Council.