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X. Recommendations

Human Rights Watch calls on the Egyptian government to ensure equality in the substantive and procedural laws and policies governing divorce initiated by men and women. In order to accomplish this goal, Egypt should ultimately establish a new divorce process that brings equal legal and judicial scrutiny to bear on decisions made by any Egyptian to end their marriage. While Human Rights Watch recognizes that the complete overhaul of the current divorce system will take time, it is clearly a necessary step to ensure full equality in matters relating to divorce. The following actions by the Egyptian government and its relevant ministries represent essential first steps toward this goal:

To the Egyptian Parliament

  • Withdraw Egypt’s reservations to articles 2 and 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and its general reservation to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). These reservations undermine the intent and purpose of these conventions and seek to absolve Egypt of its obligation to end discrimination against women, particularly in connection with matters relating to marriage and family relations.
  • Enact a specific set of laws explicitly criminalizing all forms of domestic and familial violence.
  • Repeal in full Section 1 of the Alimony Law, No. 25 of 1920, which conditions a women’s receipt of alimony on her “obedience.”
  • Repeal legal provisions that allow judges discretion in determining the degree of harm sufficient for granting a fault-based divorce based on a women’s socio-economic status.
  • Apply section 60 of the Criminal Code, which provides for the elimination of punitive damages to acts committed in “good faith,” in a manner that is gender-neutral. This law should not be applied in cases involving domestic violence. 

To the Ministry of Justice

  • Require Ma’zunswho perform marriages to inform all parties of their right to negotiate conditions for inclusion in marriage contracts, and ensure that Ma’zuns who fail to provide this information are investigated and penalized in a timely, effective, and appropriate manner.  Additionally, create a legal remedy whereby spouses who were not informed of this right have a retroactive opportunity to demand such conditions in order for a marriage contract to remain valid.
  • Add the equal right to divorce (isma) as a default provision within standard marriage contracts.
  • Abolish the mandatory mediation program for both fault-based divorce and khula(no-fault) divorce proceedings
  • Adopt policies and procedures for monitoring the work of bailiffs tasked with delivering notices for child support or alimony to ensure that bribes are not taken.  Also, promptly and effectively penalize those bailiffs found to have taken bribes.  
  • Prohibit the Supreme Council of Judges from excluding women from the office of the criminal prosecutor and the judicial bench. 
  • Require all prosecutors serving as court advisers in divorce proceedings to undertake training aimed at eliminating gender bias in their handling of cases.
  • Collect and disseminate, in a timely and transparent manner, comprehensive national statistics on domestic violence, detailing the nature and degree of violence, rates of prosecution and conviction, and the average sentences and penalties that have been levied and sentenced.

To the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs

  • Ensure that destitute women awaiting divorce qualify without delay for social assistance.
  • Establish quality shelters or other safe spaces for battered women that function as refuges without compromising women’s privacy, personal autonomy, and freedom of movement. Ensure that such shelters provide mediation only if a woman requests it. 
  • Ensure that shelter staff do not have the discretion to turn away women brought in by the police or based upon any other arbitrary or subjective criteria. 
  • End the practice of having shelter staff send notice of women’s whereabouts to abusive spouses.
  • Ensure that shelter staff do not seek to effect reconciliation without a woman’s consent. 
  • Create telephone hotlines for victims of domestic violence in all of Egypt’s governorates. These hotlines should be widely publicized, with a sufficient advertising budget, and be operated by well-trained staff who can offer basic counseling and provide non-judgmental referrals to specialized service providers and shelters.
  • Cooperate with nongovernmental women’s and human rights organizations to advertise anti-domestic violence public policies, widely disseminate information on how victims of domestic violence can seek legal redress, and publicize the existence of services for victims of domestic violence.

To the Donor Community

Bilateral donors, including the United States, Canada, Japan, and the European Union should:

  • Encourage Egypt to adopt the recommendations outlined above. Additionally, donors should raise the Egyptian government’s failure to address women’s unequal access to divorce at high-level meetings and through their embassies in Egypt.
  • Encourage Egypt to repeal discriminatory provisions in its family and penal laws, particularly those that have helped create and perpetuate unequal and parallel systems of divorce for men and women.
  • Support programs that seek to review and reform existing family laws to ensure that they are consistent with Egypt’s obligations under CEDAW and other international human rights instruments, do not discriminate on the basis of sex or gender, and afford women equality of access to divorce.
  • Provide support for programs providing basic services for divorced women and victims of domestic violence. These services should include women’s shelters, medical care, counseling, literacy classes, job/skills training, and legal aid.
  • Urge the Egyptian government to foster the participation of women in all levels of civil society, including the judiciary and the police.
  • Assist the Egyptian government toward the better training of police officers, public prosecutors (serving as advisers to courts in divorce proceedings), doctors, and judges in connection with eliminating gender bias in handling divorce proceedings and cases of violence against women.

To the World Bank and other International Lending Institutions

  • Work with the government of Egypt to ensure that development policies and programs are designed and implemented in a manner that promotes women’s equal rights in the family. Also, ensure that concrete steps are taken to eliminate discriminatory laws and customary practices that undermine development efforts.
  • Increase assistance to civil society organizations working to reform discriminatory provisions in Egypt’s personal status laws, including those that obstruct women’s rights to equality in divorce.
  • Include domestic violence education as a part of the training activities for all income-generation programs targeted at women, in order to inform program participants about the currently available forms of relief from and redress for domestic abuse.  Such training should include basic information about the rights of women to seek termination of marriages tainted by abuse or maltreatment.
  • Provide support for broad-based public campaigns aimed at fighting sexist attitudes and misogynistic cultural norms that breed domestic violence and discrimination against women.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>December 2004