Empowering women and involving men, wrestling with gender-based violence, taking care of girls and adolescents, fighting harmful practices, struggling against HIV and AIDS and promoting women’s rights are the main goals that UNFPA intend to achieve in the area of gender equality. Empowering women and advancing women's rights are key to achieving the goals of the UNFPA programme in Egypt.
Domestic law guarantees women’s equality, enshrined in article 40 of the Constitution, which states that citizens "are equal in front of the law and equal in rights and duties. There shall be no discrimination between them based on gender, origin, language or belief." Reflecting this egalitarian spirit, the country has ratified the seven main Human Rights instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on 18 September 1981.
Upon ratification, Egypt made reservations to articles 9(2), 16 and 29, pledging compliance provided that it does not run counter to the Islamic Sharia law. Article 9(2) concerns the equal right of men and women to pass their nationality to their children; Article 16 concerns women's rights within marriage and family; and Article 29 refers to the interpretation of the Convention. In 2004, the Government amended the Nationality Law allowing gender equality regarding the right to pass on the mother's nationality to her children in cases where the father is a non-Egyptian.
On the individual rights, the litigation process concerned with personal status law in Egypt is known to involve many gender discriminatory legislations and procedures. The process involves years of struggling for litigants who are mainly women (men have the unilateral right to divorce their wives without resorting to litigation).
In 2000, the Personal Status Law was amended, the main objective of the new law no.1 2000 was to grant women additional rights and provide less complex and elongated procedures to obtain court-decreed divorce and other financial rights related to the dissolution of marriage. Article 20 of the new Law stipulates the right of a woman to get out of a marriage without having to prove injury/harm or fault through filling for Khula’ and relinquishing her financial rights. The new Law also introduced Article 17, which allows women to file for divorce from an Orfi unregistered marriage.
In an effort to reduce further the hardship of women commuting between different courts and struggling to access their rights for years, in 2004, the Family Courts were established to look into family affairs including divorce, alimony, custody of children, visitation rights, etc. Laws no. 10 and 11 2004 also established the alimony funds, which dispense alimony to women and their children to help them avoid the economic and social consequences of delayed implimentation of alimony and child support court decisions, such as discontinuation of education, child labor, etc.
Although the legal framework has improved and now protects most of the rights of women as the equals of men, legislative and procedural gaps persist due to the discretionary power granted to judges and officials in applying the law according to their perception and due to gender biases and weak enforcement mechanisms. In this regard, UNFPA’s programmes in Egypt focus on supporting efforts to raise the level of awareness of the community and of the identified champions for change. Such efforts enable greater protection for the rights of women and youth and promote cultural change.
In the field of women’s rights and gender equality, UNFPA Egypt has worked with the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood to create the first FGM-free Village Model. This provides a sensitive, innovative and multi-dimensional solution to the complex issue of Female Genital Mutilation /Cutting in Egypt. The project focuses mainly on the support to communities with the intention of mobilizing them to develop their own strategies to fight the practice and to lobby with public or religious authorities.
In the field of reproductive rights, UNFPA Egypt supports the work of the Egyptian Government in leading a strong national family programme through the Population and Family Planning sector of the Ministry of Health. UNFPA supports efforts to strengthen the reproductive health impact of the family health model, the update of the national RHCS (Reproductive Health-Commodities Security) strategy, and the capacity of specialized hospitals to provide quality reproductive health services and information to youth.
UNFPA Egypt also supports The National Council for Human Rights and the Ministry of Health in providing capacity building for advocacy leaders (policy makers, religious leaders, health professionals and media personnel) on reproductive rights and gender issues as basic human rights. In addition, it provides capacity building for health service providers on reproductive rights and gender issues, on the central and on the governorate level.