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This article is about the presence and role of women in Egypt from ancient to modern times. From the earliest preserved archaeological records, Egyptian women have been thought to be considered nearly equal to men in Egyptian society, regardless of marital status but "women's rights law" has been introduced in an attempt to improve the status of women.

Women in Ancient Egypt

Women have traditionally been preoccupied with household tasks and child rearing and have rarely had opportunities for contact with men outside the family. Unlike most traditional Egyptian women, Cleopatra and Nefertiti were among the few who had a major impact as rulers in Egyptian society. Cleopatra was known to have ruled with Marc Antony around 31 BC, despite her gender and other social issues, and she was also the Coregent of her two husband-brothers and her son. Nefertiti was the chief wife of an Egyptian pharaoh, Amenhotep IV. Nefertiti was known to be an active Egyptian woman in society, as well as her children. In addition to female Egyptian rulers, Hatshepsut had reigned in Egypt as pharaoh from about 1503 to 1480 B.C. and had based most of Egypt’s economy on commerce.

Though not many women have acted as rulers in Egyptian society, they have been considered to be equal among men in status as well as legal opportunities. Women were shown to be allowed the opportunity to take part in the economy, such as their role as merchants, as it happened later in the Roman Empire, specially among the lower classes. Women had also taken part in religious activities, such as those who were priestesses. In the Sixth Dynasty Nebet became a Vizier and thus the first woman in history to fulfill such an office.

Modern status

To limit women’s contact with men as tradition, practices such as veiling and gender segregation at schools, work, and recreation have become common. Furthermore, lower-class families, especially in Upper-Egypt, have tended to withdraw females from school as they reached puberty to minimize their interaction with males. Lower-class men frequently preferred marriage to women who had been secluded rather than to those who had worked or attended secondary school.

The rule of Gamal Abdul Nasser was characterized by his policy of stridently advocating women's rights through welfare-state policies, labeled as state feminism. Women were guaranteed the right to vote and equality of opportunity was explicitly stated in the 1956 Egyptian constitution, forbidding gender-based discrimination. Labor laws were changed to ensure women's standing in the work force and maternity leave was legally protected. At the same time, the state repressed independent feminist organizations, leaving a dearth of female political representation.

The economic liberalization plan of the Sadat regime would result in the collapse of this system and the resurgence of Islamist-influenced policy. While the Nasserist years allowed a wide range of study for women, Sadat's policies would narrow the opportunities available to women. Unemployment for women changed from 5.8% 1960 to 40.7% in 1986. In place of policies to economically support women during pregnancy, women were encouraged to leave work entirely or work part-time.

The Mubarak years were marked by further erosion of the role of women. Preserved parliamentary seats for women and the 1979 personal status law were repealed in 1987, a new watered-down law taking its place that allowed less power for women in cases of divorce.

The migration of a large number of Egyptians, mostly men, has also had an impact on the status of Egyptian women. A study by the International Organization for Migration found that two-thirds of migrant household interviewed were headed by a woman in the absence of the male migrant (husband/father). For these households, remittances represented an important source of income, accounting for 43% of their total income. 52% of wives of the migrants independently decided how to spend the money received. In the remaining cases, the head of the household enjoyed a fair deal of autonomy as the decision on how to use the remittance money was reached through mutual consultation between the migrant and the head of the household and only in a few cases (11%) did the migrant decide alone.

A 2010 Pew Research Center poll showed that 45% of Egyptian men and 76% of women supported gender equality while 11% of men and 36% of women completely agreed that women should be able to work outside home. Polls taken in 2010 and 2011 show that 39% considered gender equality "very important" to Egypt's future post-revolution and 54% of Egyptians supported sex segregation in the workplace. In a 2008 survey of 1,010 women by the Egyptian Center for Women's rights, 98% of foreign women and 83% of native women said they had been sexually harassed in Egypt and two-thirds of men said that they had harassed women. Women who wore conservative attire, an Islamic headscarf or niqab, were also targeted. In 2013, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women reported that 99.3% of Egyptian women had experienced some form of harassment. Human Rights Watch reported 91 sexual assaults in four days from 30 June 2013 during the Tahrir Square protests, as well as 19 cases of mob sexual assaults in January. The deputy Middle East director at HRW said that the attacks were "holding women back from participating fully in the public life of Egypt at a critical point in the country's development." in 2012, UNICEF reported that 91% of Egyptian women and girls 15–49 years old had undergone female genital mutilation.

Marriage and divorce

Marriage was considered a very important part in ancient Egyptian society. Marriage was an almost completely private affair, and as a result, not many records of marriage were kept. Furthermore, not all Egyptian marriages were arranged, rather, most daughters had persuaded their families for their approval towards their future spouses.

Egyptian women who were married were highly acknowledged. It was common for females to marry after the age of menstruation, such as age 14. They were usually considered married after they had left the protection of their father’s house. It had also been acknowledged that though the woman became under her spouse’s care, her husband did not become her legal guardian and the woman remained independent while controlling her own assets.

Muslim husbands were traditionally allowed to have up to four wives at a time in accordance with Islamic religious custom, but a woman could have only one husband at a time. Quranic texts suggest that this practice was a concession to social conditions, stating that doing so might be 'best for the orphans'. A Muslim man could divorce his wife with ease by saying "I divorce thee" on three separate occasions in the presence of witnesses. However, for example in the more strict Hanafi school of family law, a woman could only divorce from her husband in the case of his impotence or by choosing the 'option of puberty'. The first reforms that changed this state of affairs came in the 1920s with Law No.25 of 1920 and 1929. These reforms included the following specifics regarding legitimate grounds for a woman requesting a divorce:

- If her husband failed to provide maintenance. (nafaqah)

- If her husband was found to have a dangerous or contagious disease.

- If she was deserted by her husband.

- If she was maltreated by her husband.

* Dr. Aisha Ratib became Minister of Social Affairs and in November the following revisions were suggested:

- That the age for legal marriage should be raised to 18 for women and 21 for men

- That the permission of a judge was required for polygamy

- That divorces could not take place without a judge being present

- That the mother should be allowed a greater period of guardianship, but also that guardianship in the case of divorce should go to the parent deemed most suitable to provide it

- That judges should have more involvement in family law cases, and that female judges should be considered to deal with family law cases.

The government amended the laws relating to personal status in 1979. The amendments, which became known as the "women's rights law," were in the form of a presidential decree and subsequently approved by the People's Assembly

In 1985 Egyptian authorities ruled that the amendments of 1979 were unconstitutional because they had been enacted through a presidential decree while the People's Assembly was not in session. A new law reversed many of the rights accorded to women in 1979. A woman lost her automatic right to divorce her husband if he married a second wife. She could still petition a court to consider her case, but a judge would grant a divorce only if it were in the interests of the family

Remarriage was common, and most divorced men and women expected to wed again. Seven out of ten divorces took place within the first five years of marriage, and one out of three in the first year. The divorce rate depended on residence and level of education. The highest divorce rates were among the urban lower class, the lowest rates among the villagers of Upper Egypt. Throughout the country, as much as 95 percent of all divorces occurred among couples who were illiterate.

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