Divorce Disparities in Egypt

It is no secret that gender equalities exist in the modern Egyptian world. In the divorce realm, Egyptian women face an increased gender bias. From eyewitness requirements to forced mediation, women in Egypt must jump through numerous legal hoops before being granted an inadequate, imbalanced divorce. The root of the issue stems from the battle between secular Egyptian legislation, United Nations’ international human rights laws, and the doctrines of Shari ‘a.

1975 Egyptian movie titled "Uriidu hall an", which dealt with inequalities of divorce laws in Egypt

1975 Egyptian movie titled “Uriidu hall an”, which dealt with inequalities of divorce laws in Egypt

The application of Shari ‘a is apparent in the laws of personal status, which dictates a woman’s place in marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. The first implementations and codifications of personal status laws took place “in 1920 and 1929, when two laws adopted to enlarge the grounds upon which a woman can initiate divorce, to include harm; failure to provide maintenance; absence of the husband; condemnation of the husband to jail and serious or incurable defect or disease” (Bernard-Maugiron). For Muslim Egyptian women, the contention over personal status law reform is “centered on the Islamic legal term khula’, a divorce process initiated by the female spouse in which she forfeits financial rights and reimburses her husband the dowry when contracting the marriage” (Gomez-Rivas). The current form of khula’ was established in 2000 and was accompanied by a reform that granted women the right to divorce in the event of a husband’s contracting a second marriage. Backlash against these new laws came from conservative religious groups, who claimed that the laws were contradictory of shari’a. This is an important argument because in 1980, under the rule of Anwar Sadat, the government amended the constitution to declare that shari’a was “the principle source of Egyptian legislation.” This movement of women’s rights based on Islamic ideals led to the denotation of the 1980’s and 1990’s as the beginning of women’s “endangered rights”. Although Egypt ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1980, “Egypt’s government cited specific adherence to Islamic law (shari’a) to evade its obligation to protect women’s rights, including a woman’s right to equal access to divorce” (Human Rights Watch).

The enforcement of personal status laws and the adherence to shari’a have provided a tumultuous atmosphere for Egyptian women who want a divorce. For Egyptian women, a divorce is much more difficult to access than if she were a man. While men have a unilateral and unconditional right to divorce, women must resort to Egypt’s inefficient courts if they wish to divorce their husbands (Human Rights Watch).  The backlogged courts only exacerbate the issue by implementing procedural and evidentiary hurdles that Egyptian women must navigate in order to obtain a divorce. These difficulties, delays, and unequal standards leave Egyptian women in a tough position: do they stay in their often times abusive relationships, or do they surrender their financial rights and beg their husbands to divorce them? In addition, the government requires all women seeking divorce to submit to compulsory mediation, whereas a man who divorces his wife is not subject to forced mediation (Human Rights Watch). It can be see that this forced mediation on the women’s side is a clear biased notion that women cannot make rational decisions and must have intervention in order to stop them from tearing apart their families.

These disparities, and many others that were not discussed, should compel the Egyptian government to take action against discriminatory laws that place women in an unsafe, uninviting position of whether to lose everything or stay in potentially dangerous marriages.  Facing financial bankruptcy and possible homelessness, many women feel obligated to stay with their husbands, regardless of how violent their home life may be. The current legal system in Egypt is perpetuating the powerlessness many Egyptian women face at home, and a call for action needs to be addressed. While the introduction of the khula’ divorce law and the ratification of the CEDAW provide women a small ounce of power, it is only a slight improvement from their previous state. Other small steps towards women’s equality in marriage and divorce include Law No 100 of 1985, which “allowed divorced women to get a financial compensation, to keep marital home until the end of children custody, and extended female child custody by the mother until age 12 for girls and age 10 for boys” (Bernard-Maugiron). While this law, Law No 1 of 2000, and Law No 11 of 2004 provide women partial power in a divorce, there is still a substantial amount of work that needs to be accomplished before Egyptian women can feel secure in their abilities to access an unbiased divorce.




Works Cited


Bernard-Maugiron, Natalie. “Personal Status Laws in Egypt.” Promotion of Women’s Rights (2010): n. pag. GTZ (German Technical Cooperation), Mar. 2010. Web. 03 Dec. 2014.

Gomez-Rivas, Camilo. “Women, Shari’a, and Personal Status Law Reform in Egypt after the Revolution | Middle East Institute.” Women, Shari’a, and Personal Status Law Reform in Egypt after the Revolution | Middle East Institute. Middle East Institute, 1 Oct. 2011. Web. 04 Dec. 2014.

Human Rights Watch. Divorced from Justice: Women’s Unequal Access to Divorce in Egypt. Copyright: 2004 Human Rights Watch. Vol. 16, No. 8.