(Beirut) - The Egyptian government should act to end discrimination against women in judicial positions in all courts, Human Rights Watch said today. The Special Council, a governing body of the State Council, on February 22, 2010, overruled a vote taken on February 15 by an administrative court, known as the Council of State, to bar women from its judicial positions.
Despite this important ruling, women are still barred from serving as judges in other state bodies, including criminal courts, Human Rights Watch said.
"Today's decision is a step forward, and the Suprement Judicial Council should build on the momentum by allowing women to serve as criminal court judges, and in fact in all judicial positions," said Nadya Khalife, women's rights researcher for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch. "The continuing discrimination insults the many Egyptian women who are fully qualified to serve as judges."
Although the number of women serving in ministries and parliament has grown in recent years, they remain conspicuously underrepresented in judicial positions, Human Rights Watch said.
In 2003, the only female judge in any court in Egypt was Tahani al-Gibali. She was appointed to the High Constitutional Court by presidential decree. In its 2005 report, "Divorced from Justice," Human Rights Watch found that some judges and officials of the Justice Ministry were outspoken in their opposition to the inclusion of women on the bench.
In 2007, the Supreme Judicial Council selected 31 women to serve as judges in family courts, though some Muslim conservatives in Egypt criticized the decision. Mohamed El-Omda, a member of parliament, was quoted in a 2007 article in Al-Ahram daily as saying, "Women cannot succeed as judges because the burdens of the task are enormous."
The women were appointed, however, by presidential decree and continue to serve.
The Egyptian constitution states in article 40 that "all citizens are equal before the law. They have equal public rights and duties without discrimination due to sex, ethnic origin, language, religion or creed."
As a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Egypt has an obligation to eliminate gender-based discrimination in political and public life, and "in particular, shall ensure to women on equal terms with men, the right ... to perform all public functions at all levels."
The United Nations' CEDAW Committee, in its review of Egypt's state report at the end of January 2010, recommended "that the Convention and related domestic legislation be made an integral part of the legal education and training of judges, magistrates, lawyers and prosecutors, particularly those working in the family courts, so that a legal culture supportive of the equality of women with men and non-discrimination on the basis of sex is firmly established in the country."
Today, three women serve as ministers in Egypt's 27-member cabinet. A 2009 law requires that women should hold at least 12 percent of the 518 seats in the lower house of parliament, beginning with the election scheduled for November 2010.
"The exclusion of women from the bench can no longer be acceptable for a society that has demonstrated its commitment to women's political and social participation" Khalife said. "Egypt needs to respect its international obligations to end gender discrimination in all sectors of life."