Gender Equality in Egypt

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Flag of Egypt
Population (in Mil.) 80.72
Gross Domestic Product (In USD Billions - WB) 262.83
Sex Ratio (m/f) 1.03
Life Expectancy Ratio (f/m) 1.073529412
Fertility Rate 2.97
Estimated Earned Income (f/m) 0.26
Tertiary Enrolment Ratio (f/m) 30.4
Women in Parliament (in %)
Human Development Index 112/187
Social Institutions and Gender Index 65/86
Gender Inequality Index 112/186
Gender Equity Index 132/168
Women’s Economic Opportunity Index 80/128
Global Gender Gap Index /68
More information on variables

In the News

Social Institutions

The traces of Egypt’s civilisation date back more than 4000 years.[1] The country was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in 1517, and became a British Protectorate in 1882, gaining full independence in 1952.[1] Egypt is classed as a lower-middle income country by the World Bank, and much of the population live in poverty, particularly in the countryside.[2] [1] The dominant religion is Islam, although there is also a Coptic (Christian) minority (9%).[1] Widespread anti-government demonstrations in January 2011, encouraged by the flight of the long-term leader of Tunisia, eventually led President Mubarak to step aside. He was arrested and put on trial in August 2011 over deaths during the demonstrations. At the time of writing (October 2011), the military is in charge but have promised to effect a quick transition to democracy. Under continuing pressure from pro-democracy protesters, a new interim government was formed. In March 2011, a series of constitutional changes paving the way for early elections were approved.[3]

According to the African Women’s Report 2009, while levels of education are high among women in Egypt, their political and economic participation is hampered by economic, social, religious and cultural influences that limit their right to be active and visible in the public sphere, and place significant pressure on women not to pursue a career.[4] [5] In addition, Egypt’s Personal Status Laws place considerable limits on Muslim women’s freedom of movement, as well as their rights within marriage and the family. [6] The Egyptian Constitution guarantees equality between men and women in regard to civil and political rights, and outlaws discrimination on the basis of gender in articles 8 and 40, but also identifies Sharia law as the principal source of law (at the amendment to article 2).[7] Egypt ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1981, but with reservations against articles: Article 2, which calls for the implementation of policies designed to eliminate gender discrimination, on the grounds that this could violate Sharia in some cases; Article 9(2), regarding the right of women to pass their nationality to their children (reservation removed in 2008); Article 16, related to equality within marriage; and Article 29(2), on the resolution of disputes related to the convention.[8] [6] [4] Egypt has not yet ratified the Optional Protocol on violence against women.[4] The country has also not signed or ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.[9] Egypt is ranked at 113 (out of a total of 187 countries) in the 2011 Human Development Index, with a score of 0.644.[10] The Gender Inequality Index score is not provided for 2011.[10] Egypt is ranked 123rd in the 2011 Global Gender Gap Index, with a score of 0.5933.[11]

Discriminatory Family Code

There is no unified Family Code in Egypt. Rather, the Personal Status Law (based on Sharia law) governs Muslim women’s rights within marriage and the family, and other faiths apply their own community’s religious standards to family matters.[12][6] Following a change in the Child Law in 2008, the legal age for marriage is now 18 for women and men. [6] [5] According to data from the 2008 Demographic and Household Survey, 13.5% of girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed.[13] Marriages are only legal if both parties have given their consent, but Muslim women do not have the right to marry non-Muslim men (while Muslim men are free to marry Jewish or Christian women).[12][14] If a Coptic woman chooses to marry a Muslim man, she is then unable to take communion (one of the most important rites in the Coptic faith).[6] According to a 2010 report published by Freedom House, unregistered ‘urfi’ marriages are said to be on the rise, whereby a couple sign an informal contract and then live together, often without their families’ knowledge.[6] Women have no legal rights within such marriages.[6] Polygamy is legal in Egypt for Muslim men: men may take up to four wives, and the requirement on them is to inform their existing wives of their intention to take another wife, and their proposed wife of the existence of other wives.[12] [14] Up-to-date figures are not available, but Kurtz estimates that in 2001 less than 3% of Egyptian men had multiple wives.[15] The Personal Status Laws give Muslim men the right to divorce without their wife’s consent, but in such cases, the ex-wife is entitled to compensation of at least two years’ maintenance.[12] [14] If a Muslim woman wishes to divorce, they have to go through the courts.[12] [14] The kuhl’ law grants Muslim women the right to divorce without the husband’s consent under certain conditions (e.g. domestic violence, or illness).[6] If none of these conditions are met, women can obtain a no-fault divorce, but then they forfeit many of their financial entitlements.[6] [5] Coptic Christianity does not recognise divorce, except in certain limited circumstances (e.g. adultery, or if one spouse converts to another religion), not including domestic violence.[12] [14]

Women in Egypt face discrimination with regards to parental authority: Islamic law views fathers as the natural guardian of children; mothers are the physical custodians, but have no legal rights.[16] Following the introduction to new child custody laws in 2005, in the event of divorce women now retain custody of children until they are 15; this can be extended until the child reaches the age of 21 (or marries, in the case of girls), if the court deems this to be in the best interests of the child. [12] [14] [6] Women can now also confer citizenship to children born to non-Egyptian fathers.[6] [5] Sharia law – which governs Muslim women’s inheritance rights in Egypt – has a complicated allocation system in regard to the division of property following death.[17] Women may inherit from their father, mother, husband or children and, under certain conditions, from other family members. However, their share is generally half that to which men are entitled.[17] Customary practices dictate that in rural areas, women are not able to inherit land.[12] [14] In other cases, women may be prevented from accessing and using property that they have legally inherited, or only given permission to inhabit the property (and are unable to sell it or rent it out).[12] [14] [6] Widows are often prevented from re-marrying by the husband’s family, or pressured into marrying their husband’s brother, in order to ensure that property and children remain in the husband’s family name.[18] Coptic women married to Muslim men are unable to inherit from their husbands.[6] [5]

Restricted Physical Integrity

The Egyptian penal code does not include specific reference to domestic violence, although cases can be brought under laws relating to general assault.[5] [12] [14] However, the requirement that assault victims produce multiple eyewitnesses limits the capacity of women affected by domestic violence to register cases.[5] In addition, Article 60 of the penal code excuses acts that have been committed in “good faith” pursuant to a right established under Shari‘a, and this article has been employed to excuse domestic violence.[6] Domestic violence is perceived as a private matter and many incidents remain unreported. Sadly, it also appears to be accepted by many women in Egyptian society: according to the 2008 DHS, 39% of women questioned agreed with at least one of a list of five ‘reasons’ justifying a man beating his wife.[4] Limited support services are provided by women’s rights NGOs and the quasi-governmental National Council for Women.[5] There are also some government-run shelters, but husbands and family members have access to these premises, and they function more as rehabilitation centres than refuges.[6] Rape is a criminal offence under Egyptian law, with punishments of up to 25 years in prison.[5] Spousal rape is not recognised as a crime in Egypt.[12] [14] Rape and sexual violence remain taboo topics in Egypt, according to the 2009 African Women’s Report.[4] Sexual harassment on the street is considered to be a widespread problem. [19] [20][5] Article 17 of the penal code allows for some leniency in the punishment of so-called ‘honour’ killings.[6] There are no reliable statistics available as to the number of ‘honour’ crimes each year.[5] [19] Female genital mutilation (FGM) has been illegal in Egypt since 1996, except when it is required for medical cases, and it is one of the few countries in the region to have brought prosecutions under this law.[21] The practice was also outlaws under the Child Law in 2008.[22] The government has also run mass campaigns to discourage the practice. [5] However, data from the 2008 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) indicates that 95.8% of women aged 15-49 in Egypt have undergone the procedure. Girls usually undergo the procedure between the ages of five and 14, and in contrast to other countries with high FGM prevalence rates, in a high number of cases (31.9% in 2008), the procedure is undertaken by medical personnel.[4] A 2005 UNICEF report argues that the effective medicalisation of FGM in Egypt is the result of the legal loophole in the legislation on FGM (allowing it to be performed for medical reasons), and a strong advocacy campaign highlighting the health dangers associated with the practice.[13] [21] Some projects run by local NGOs and religious organisations have succeeded in reducing the numbers of girls undergoing FGM in particular communities, but this has been at the level of individual villages.[21] Attitudes do appear to be changing, albeit slowly: in 1995, 82% of ever-married women aged 15-49 believed the practice should continue, compared to 63% in 2008.[4] Prevalence rates are also lower among younger women (under 25). [13] There is currently (early 2011) no law in place addressing trafficking in Egypt, although other laws have been used to prosecute those involved in trafficking (e.g. the Labour Code and the Child Law), and various government agencies are active on the matter. [5] Egypt is known to be a source, transit and destination country for women and children trafficked for purposes of forced labour and sexual exploitation.[5] Knowledge of contraception appears to be extremely high in Egypt, and in 2008, 60.3% of married women aged 15-49 reported using some form of contraception (including so-called ‘traditional’ methods).[13] But provision of reproductive health services is inadequate.[5] According to data from the 2008 DHS, lack of provision of healthcare facilities (including the absence of female staff), cost, distance, and the need to obtain permission from their husband or another family member all acted as barriers to women’s access to healthcare in general,[13] and presumably, to reproductive healthcare in particular. Abortion is only available to save the pregnant woman’s life.[23]

Son Bias

Malnutrition and under-five mortality rates are higher among boys than girls in Egypt.[4] Immunization rates are slightly higher for girls than for boys, according to the 2008 DHS.[13] Primary and secondary enrolment rates are slightly higher for boys than for girls, according to the 2009 African Women’s Report (primary: 99.8% for boys and 95.2% for girls; secondary: 82.4% for boys and 77.6% for girls).[4] However, the same report indicates that boys are more likely than girls to drop out of both primary and secondary school. [4] The figures above would indicate that Egypt is not a country of a concern in regard to son bias in early childhood care, or access to primary education, although there may be some bias evident in access to secondary education. The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 1.03.[24] There is no evidence to suggest that Egypt is a country of concern in relation to missing women.

Restricted Resources and Entitlements

Egyptian law does not restrict women’s access to land and property other than land.[6] However, in rural areas women rarely own the land that they work, and it is not considered socially acceptable for them to inherit land. [12] [14] Where women do own land or other property, they often delegate the responsibility of managing it to husbands or male relatives.[6] According to the African Women’s Report 2009, the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation facilitates women’s access to land in rural areas, as well as providing training and information.[4] Within marriage, women’s right to own and manage property other than land is restricted, as the marital home remains the exclusive property of the husband.[12] [14] If a couple divorce, the woman has no stake in any of the couple’s marital assets, and has no right to retain ownership interest in the marital home or any other property.[12] [14] There are no legal restrictions on women’s access to credit in Egypt. However, it appears to be easier for women to access credit through credit societies than through banks,[6] indicating that it is difficult for women to obtain bank loans. In addition, The Principal Bank for Development and Agricultural Credit has various schemes in place to enable rural women to access credit.[4]

Restricted Civil Liberties

Women’s freedom of movement in Egypt is restricted. While women no longer need their husband’s or father’s permission to obtain a passport, a husband or father can still obtain a court order preventing a woman from leaving the country.[12] [14] In rural areas, women’s day-to-day freedom of movement can be restricted, and widespread sexual harassment in urban areas also inhibits freedom of movement.[6] Under President Mubarak, freedom of expression, association, and assembly were significantly curtailed.<ref="Amnesty International (2010)>Amnesty International (2010) Amnesty International Report 2009, State of the World’s Human Rights, London: Amnesty International. (accessed 8 November 2010)</ref> [5] [19] For the most part, the Egyptian media portrays women in gender-stereotyped roles, although women are gaining greater positive visibility in the media.[6] It is reported that women have been a visible presence in the ongoing anti-government demonstrations, in contrast to previous demonstrations in Egypt.[20] Following a constitutional amendment, as of June 2009, a quota has been in place reserving 64 of the 518 seats (12.6%) in the People’s Assembly (the Egyptian Parliament’s lower house) for women.<ref="Amnesty International (2010)/> [4] As of early 2011, there were 65 women parliamentarians.[25] Information was not available as to the number of women sitting in the higher Shoura Assembly.[26] However, women remain under-represented in politics, there are very few women in positions of leadership in public life more generally in Egypt, and women wishing to stand for public office receive little encouragement from a society that distrusts the idea of women leaders. [4] [6] In 2007, a long-standing ban on female judges was lifted.[6] Women’s rights NGOs were active in campaigning for the constitutional amendment introducing the parliamentary quota.[4] A number of active women's rights groups also work to reform family law, educate women on their legal rights, promote literacy, combat female genital mutilation (FGM), and challenge sexual harassment and sexual violence.[6] [5]

In Egypt, pregnant women are entitled to 90 days’ paid maternity leave.[27] Discrimination on the basis of gender in employment is banned; however women are prohibited from working in certain occupations that could damage their health or morals, effectively limiting their economic opportunities. [12] [6] Women face discrimination in the labour market in both the public and private sectors, and consistently earn less than men in Egypt; the pay gap is wider in the private sector than in the public sector. [19] [4] In rural areas, many women working seasonally in agriculture appear to receive no remuneration for their labour, as they are considered to be assisting their husband or other family members. [4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (2010) World Factbook: Egypt, online edition, (accessed 10 February 2011
  2. World Bank (n.d.) Data: Egypt, Arab Rep., (accessed 10 February 2011)
  3. BBC (n.d.) ‘NEWS Egypt unrest’, (accessed 10 February 2011)
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) (2009) African Women’s Report 2009: Measuring Gender Inequality in Africa:Experiences and Lessons from the African Gender and Development Index, Addis Ababa: UNECA. (accessed 15 October 2010),
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 5.15 5.16 US Department of State (2010) ‘2009 Country Reports on Human Rights: Egypt’, (accessed 10 February 2011)
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 6.14 6.15 6.16 6.17 6.18 6.19 6.20 6.21 6.22 6.23 6.24 Tadros, Mariz (2010) ‘Egypt’, in Sanja Kelly and Julia Breslin, eds., (2010) Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, New York, NY: Freedom House; Lanham, MD: Rowman & LittlefieldTadros
  7. Government of Egypt (n.d.) ‘Egypt Constitution’, (accessed 10 February 2011)
  8. United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTC) (n.d): Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, countries ratified. - CEDAW: (accessed 10 February 2011); - Optional Protocol: (accessed 10 February 2011)
  9. African Union (2010) ‘List of countries which have signed, ratified/acceded to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa’ (as of 27 August 2010). (accessed 15 October 2010).
  10. 10.0 10.1 United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at, accessed 29 February 2012
  11. World Economic Forum (2011) The Global Gender Gap Report 2011, available at, accessed 2 March 2012
  12. 12.00 12.01 12.02 12.03 12.04 12.05 12.06 12.07 12.08 12.09 12.10 12.11 12.12 12.13 12.14 12.15 Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO)(n.d.) ‘Gender and land rights database: country report - Egypt’, (accessed 10 February 201
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 El-Zanaty, Fatma and Ann Way (2009) Egypt Demographic and Health Survey 2008, Cairo, Egypt: Ministry of Health, El-Zanaty and Associates, and Macro International
  14. 14.00 14.01 14.02 14.03 14.04 14.05 14.06 14.07 14.08 14.09 14.10 14.11 14.12 14.13 Centre on housing rights and evictions (COHRE) (2006) ‘In search for equality: A survey of law and practice related to women’s inheritance rights in the MENA region’, Geneva, Switzerland (no page reference given)
  15. Kurtz, S. (2006), “Polygamy Versus Democracy: You Can’t Have Both”, The Weekly Standard, 2006, Vol. 011, No. 36, News American Inc., Washington, DC.
  16. Uhlman, K. (2004) ‘Overview of Shari’a and Prevalent Customs in Islamic Societies: Divorce and Child Custody’, Expert Law, (accessed 3 March 2011)
  17. 17.0 17.1 The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) (2005) ‘Islam, land & property research series’, Paper 6: Islamic inheritance laws and systems, Nairobi, Kenya. Available at (accessed 10 February 2011)
  18. Housing and Land Rights Network / HABITAT INTERNATIONAL COALITION, UNITED NATIONS Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (2004), p.51
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 Freedom House (2010) Freedom in the World Country Reports: Egypt, online edition, (accessed 10 February 2011);
  20. 20.0 20.1 Krajeski, Jenna (2011) ‘Women Are a Substantial Part of Egyptian Protests’, double X blog, 27 January 2011, (accessed 10 February 2011)
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 UNICEF (2005) ‘Changing a harmful social convention: female genital mutilation/cutting’, Innocenti Digest, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, UNICEF, Florence
  22. Law No.126 of 2008 amending the provisions of the Child Law (2008)
  23. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (2007)’World abortion policies’, data downloaded from (accessed 21 October 2010).
  24. Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Fact Book: Sex Ratio, available at, accessed 14 March 2012
  25. Inter-Parliamentary Union (n.d.-a) ‘EGYPT: Majlis Al-Chaab (People's Assembly)’, (accessed 10 February 2011)
  26. Inter-Parliamentary Union (n.d.-b) ‘EGYPT: Majlis Ash-Shura (Shoura Assembly)’, (accessed 10 February 2011)
  27. International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009) Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws, (accessed 10 February 2011)

The Women, Business and the Law

Where are laws equal for men and women?  

The Women, Business and the Law report presents indicators based on laws and regulations affecting women's prospects as entrepreneurs and employees. Several of these indicators draw on the Gender Law Library, a collection of over 2,000 legal provisions impacting women's economic status. This report does not seek to judge or rank countries, but to provide information to inform discussions about women’s economic rights. Women, Business and the Law provides data covering 6 areas: accessing institutions,using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, and going to court. Read more about the methodology.

For detailed information on Egypt, please visit the Women, Business and
the Law Egypt


The FAO Gender and Landrights Database

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The FAO Gender and Landrights Database contains country level information on social, economic, political and cultural issues related to the gender inequalities embedded in those rights. Disparity on land access is one of the major causes for social and gender inequalities in rural areas, and it jeopardizes, as a consequence, rural food security as well as the wellbeing of individuals and families.

Six categories

The Database offers information on the 6 following Categories:

  • National legal frame
  • International treaties and conventions
  • Customary law 
  • Land tenure and related Institutions
  • Civil society organizations
  • Selected Land Related Statistics

For detailed information on Egypt, please visit the report on Egypt in the FAO Gender and Landrights Database.


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