‘Guardianship is my right’: Egyptian women revolt against taboos

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“I cannot travel… I cannot take my daughter out of school… I cannot open a bank account for my son.” These are some of the problems that women of all ages and social conditions in Egypt encounter every day. These conditions are due to personal status laws that do not give Egyptian women the right to guardianship.

These screams have risen now in light of the proposed Personal Status Law submitted to parliament, which some described as taking away several rights and restricting women’s freedom.

“Guardianship is my right” was a hashtag Egyptian women have posted under during the past few days, expressing their opposition to the law, and sharing stories about their daily suffering. In this report, we list the most important things that women cannot do in Egypt.

Guardianship over oneself

According to the law, if a woman reaches the age of 21 years, she can marry herself without a guardian. Still, some authorised officials intend to stop the completion of the marriage except in the presence of a male from the family. They seek to do that under the pretext that the contract is not valid without a guardian. This refusal was prompted by a verbal instruction from the Ministry of Justice prohibiting women from performing a marriage without a guardian.

Women also face difficulties in having operations for themselves in the reproductive system and uterus, which may require the husband’s consent. The woman does not have the right to have an abortion, uterine operations, or any surgery that may threaten her future pregnancy without her husband’s consent, and sometimes a brother or son, except in emergencies that may threaten her life. According to doctors, no law requires this, but this policy binds doctors for fear of problems resulting from the husband or family if the process is completed without their knowledge.

Guardianship over children

Under Egyptian law, the father is the natural guardian of minor children rather than the mother. As for the mother, she always appears in legislation as a “guardian” over her minor children, “with limits.”

This difference in designation is because the law sees in the “guardian” a natural practitioner of the concept of guardianship. In contrast, mothers’ guardianship may appear to exercise this role exceptionally. Thus, the father has the right to represent the minor before the law without the mother, while the woman is given the right of custody, which requires care and education, so custody goes to the mother first, then the grandmother. This results in the woman not being entitled to file lawsuits or sign contracts in the name of her children and to agree to surgery being performed on the children.

Child registration

The mother can also not register her children in the health offices after birth unless the father or first-degree relative of the father is present. Women cannot conduct financial transactions related to minors, such as opening a bank account in their names. A woman cannot open a bank account for her children or a savings book at post offices, except if she obtains a power of attorney from the father or a court ruling on the funds’ guardianship. To implement the guardianship ruling, the bank’s legal affairs must be approved as part of its policies.

A woman cannot take care of her children’s money even if she is the source of that money. According to the first article in the provisions of guardianship over money, minors’ financial guardianship goes to the father and then the grandfather. In the father’s death, guardianship is not transferred to the mother but to the grandfather (the father of the father). The mother cannot obtain it except with the grandfather’s assignment with his consent and permission, given that the “natural guardianship” was transferred from the father to the grandfather.

In the event of the mother’s death and the transfer of her wealth to her minor children, the father exercises his guardianship over his children, including their money. This occurs under “relatively light” restrictions instead of strict restrictions placed on a mother in the same position, based on fiscal state law. The law stipulates that the father should not be held accountable except for serious mistakes related to the management of his children’s wealth, as the father exclusively enjoys this right; that is, it does not apply to others. Schools also refuse to allow mothers to take many measures related to education, even their right to receive a tablet.

A married woman cannot enroll her children in school or transfer them to another school, except by obtaining educational guardianship through a court ruling, as the principle in the right of guardianship in Egyptian law is to the father. As for the divorced woman, she transfers her children without a ruling, as she is a custodian by law. However, school administrations often request a court ruling on educational guardianship, as a condition for the admission of children to schools, in contravention of the law. The father has the right to appeal any of his ex-wife’s decisions regarding children’s education through a lawsuit. Faced with this, hundreds of women posted under the hashtag, “guardianship is my right,” which sparked widespread controversy in Egyptian society and social media.

Egyptian women considered the law to be sexist: “We are in dire need of a law that achieves justice for all family members and preserves the best interests of the children.” Egyptian women demanded a law that recognises the guardianship of a woman over herself and her children and that regulates marriage, divorce, alimony, and custody procedures before the court based on justice, mercy, and non-discrimination.