CAIRO — This summer, Egyptian women have broken taboos to speak out against the constraints of traditional marriage rites and the prevalence of sexual harassment in the country. Despite their recent push for greater legal and social recognition, however, Egyptian women are receiving conflicting messages about their rights, especially when it comes to Egypt’s family law. 

Civil society organizations are launching awareness campaigns calling for gender equality and equal legal protection in the family structure. Yet at the same time, the religious establishment is telling women that they already have sufficient family rights under existing laws.


During the past decade, Egypt and other Arab countries have witnessed legislative reforms that have resulted in constitutional amendments granting women equal rights. For example, Egyptian women who are married to non-Egyptians can now pass their nationality on to their children. In addition, for the first time Egyptian women have secured the right to divorce, and husbands can no longer prevent their wives from travelling abroad alone. Rapists cannot escape court penalty by marrying the women they have raped, and family courts have been established to mediate between spouses and speed up divorce proceedings.


But, family law remains untouched. The present code of laws dates back to 1920 and is based on assumptions meant to keep the traditional patriarchal system intact. One such assumption is that husbands will provide for their families and women will be subordinate to their husbands. This personal status law gives men the unconditional right to divorce, while women have to resort to court approval, which is often granted only if women relinquish


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