Egypt’s Judicial System: Where the “Honor” is Reserved Exclusively for Men | Reem Abdel Kader

January 9, 2021
– By: Reem Abdel Kader 

In 1959, Ruth Ginsburg  was denied employment by most law firms in New York City. Despite having graduated at the top of her class with honors from Columbia University, one of the most prestigious law schools in the country, her gender precluded her. In 2020, women in Egypt still face this problem.

Throughout history, women have faced many socio-economic restrictions and barriers whose sole purpose was to monopolize women and allocate them to specific roles. Alas, even nowadays, women around the world still face discrimination, and that includes Egypt. In a population of 103 million , there are 16,000 judges, from which only 66 are women.  This means that only 0.5% of the appointed judges in Egypt are women. Additionally, they were selected from the already appointed members of the Administrative Prosecution and Egyptian State Lawsuits Authority.

“Why are you here? We don’t accept females.” This was the abhorrent reaction Omnia Gadallah, the founder of Her Honor Setting the Bar initiative, was met with when she went to submit her papers for a judicial position announced by the State Council in 2014. Gadallah graduated in 2013 with honors from the faculty of Law and Shari’a, Al Azhar University, then obtained her first LLM in 2015. After having been denied the right to apply for the judiciary position, Gadallah took resolute steps by filing two cases that highlight the unconstitutionality of the administrative decision that prohibits women from applying to judiciary positions. In line with the 2014 constitution, articles 9, 11, 14, and 53 explicitly mention the prohibition of gender-based discrimination, and the right to equal opportunities.

Gadallah’s initiative, Her Honor Setting the Bar, tackles this matter through helping women take legal actions regarding this issue pro bono. The legal team behind this initiative consists of only Gadallah and a very dedicated volunteer, Mohamed Eslah. Eslah started volunteering with the initiative back in 2014, and has been doing so since.  The initiative also organizes seminars and fairs in many governorates around Egypt to introduce the notion. The initiative accepts no external funding, meaning Gadallah singlehandedly finances all the legal expenses. “This case isn’t just about a trial in court as much as it is about raising awareness. Almost 99% of the people have no clue that a case such as this exists,” commented Gadallah. 

Why are women precluded from the courts?

As previously noted, the exclusion of women from judiciary positions is without merit, but rather based on the inherently internalized misogyny that has been breeding for centuries.  This partisanship is a result of society viewing women as an impediment rather than functioning members of society. One of the most common arguments is that women are incompetent because some of them take maternity leaves, thus hindering the work process. Another infamous argument is that women are too “emotionally unstable” during menstruation, and therefore cannot be relied on during that time to make balanced decisions. Perhaps one of the most common beliefs, that Islam prohibits women from being in positions of power, was debunked by Dar El Iftaa via a Facebook post in 2012 .

What future awaits female law graduates in Egypt?

Per Gadallah’s personal mantra “A right is never lost, as long as someone strives to claim it”, she believes that the constant endeavor will have a big impact on the long run. “I’m no longer met with the same amount of attacks I used to get back in 2014,” Gadallah stated, “even nowadays, people are more open to discussions, and can change their minds.” Since, for many Egyptians, the appointment of female judges is alien, the initiative also focuses on publishing the biographies of female world judges all around the world to familiarize the concept. The stereotypes of the incompetence of women will continue to proclaim, unless something is done to fight them back.

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