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LEX Africa celebrates International Women’s Month: African women changing the face of the legal profession

The role of women in Egyptian legal practice seems to be changing for the better. There has been a development concerning the appointment of female judges at the Egyptian State Council. The State Council is an administrative court system with jurisdiction over cases involving the Supreme Administrative Court, Board of State Commissioners, legal advice department and legislation department. On the 14th of March 2010, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court ruled, that female judges can serve on the State Council, rejecting the decision of the State Council’s general assembly to bar female judges in February 2010.  The Council’s supervisory committee also overruled that bar later, which led Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif to ask the Supreme Court to rule on this issue.  It then stated that the general assembly didn’t have the authority to make this decision and that only the supervisory committee can approve new judges.

Additionally, the 2014 constitution of Egypt prohibits gender discrimination and makes a clear statement in article 11: ‘‘The state shall ensure the right of women to hold public and senior management posts of the state and ensure the designation of women in judicial bodies and authorities with no discrimination against them”.

But despite the Constitutional Court’s statement and article 11 of the constitution, apparently no changes have been made in practice. In early 2014, female graduates from law school requested applications to be able to apply for a judicial position in the State Council.  They were not given any like the male applicants, but were only able to submit their documents.  This is a very half-hearted attempt, as there can be no acceptance without a proper application.  A conflict arose out of this application problem, as it is a clear contradiction to the new constitution.  The State Council still refuses to accept females. As a result, one of the female applicants filed a lawsuit against the State Council’s president and prime minister. The State Council is looking for excuses to justify their attitude towards female jurists. A spokesperson for the State Council Judges Club says, article 11 of the new constitution did not oblige the council to appoint women and adds the idea of female judges was unacceptable in Sharia law.  Contradicting this statement, the grand mufti of Al Azhar issued a fatwa in 2013, saying women may assume judicial posts and senior state positions without prejudice to Sharia law.

Men in influential positions try to stop women from making a career in important judicial positions, but they will not be able to hold this course for much longer, as they run out of excuses and women are supported by inalienable rights given to them  by the constitution.  There  has been a progress in the past, for example in 2003, when Tehany El Gebaly was the first female judge to be appointed by the Supreme Constitutional Court and in 2007, when 31 Egyptian women were selected as judges by Egypt’s Supreme Judicial Council and later appointed by presidential decree.

Passant Hisham, lawyer at Egyptian LEX Africa member firm, Nadoury & Nahas.

Generally it can be said, that women in Egyptian legal practice are finding their way, even if slowly and facing difficulties at some points.  People should measure them by their professional abilities and look for a good and able lawyer or judge notwithstanding their gender. Until this view changes, women will be excluded from certain procedures and working fields, employers will continue to prefer males and other injustices will continue to take place.

Submitted by Uta Toensmeise and Passant Hisham of Egyptian Lex African member, Nadoury & Nahas.

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