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The Egyptian Woman Judge: Setting the Bar for Gender Equality

“A right is never lost, as long as someone strives to claim it” (author unknown) It doesn’t sound rationale to envisage having Egyptian women attending law school, joining the Parliament/Legislative Authority, teaching law, yet are prevented from being judges/sitting on the bench. Becoming a woman judge is a dream of many Egyptian female law graduates. Allowing women to be judges is an essential democratic value of equality, a predictor of the rule of law, and a reflection of the impartiality and independence of the judiciary. Further, it is a step towards equality and full citizenship rights for women, and a fight to prove that women are not second-class citizens or less capable of handling judgeships.In the recent Global Gender Gap report[1], Egypt ranked 135th out of 149 countries, a very disappointing, unsatisfactory reflection of its civilization, which does not meet the aspirations of its women after having the first female lawyer in 1933[2] and despite women obtaining their rights in political participation prior to other African, Arab, and even some European countries. Even though about a century has passed, very little has changed in terms of opening up for women’s equal participation in decision-making institutions such as the judiciary. The Case of Women in Egypt’s JudiciaryOne of the gender discrimination issues in Egypt is banning women from becoming judges. Female law graduates –including myself- are prevented from applying to judicial positions as their male counterparts despite the fact that women are included in the top 10 graduating students in all Egyptian law schools. This persistent discrimination continues to be the case, despite many international conventions that grant females the right to sit on the bench, inter alia, UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1979) and African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (1981). The 2014 Constitution of Egypt is replete with articles that explicitly grant women the right to be appointed in all the Judicial Authorities. For example, Article 11 stressing the state’s responsibility to “guarantee women’s right of holding public and senior management offices in the State and their appointment in judicial bodies and authorities without discrimination.” Article(53), criminalizes discrimination, stressing the state’s responsibility to “take necessary measures for eliminating all forms of discrimination, and the Law shall regulate creating an anti-discrimination independent commission[3] for this purpose” Article (9), states the right of equal opportunities and equality along with Article (14) that affirms that appointment in public positions is merit-based . The “Image” Beyond Banning Women From Being JudgesThe reasons behind women judges’ absence from sitting on the bar find its roots in male’s perception of women’s roles in the society­–a woman's place is the home, underestimating women’s capabilities, religious misconceptions that Islam prohibits appointing women judges and unfortunately distorted self-perception of some women in a male dominated community. All these factors are at play despite the fact that the highest religious authority published Fatwas that permits having women judges. Surprisingly, the most fervent oppositions were, and are still coming from the judiciary itself, despite no explicit prohibition in the laws governing the judiciary.Genuinely, law graduates can apply to the State Council – administrative courts – Public Prosecution, Military Prosecution, the Administrative Prosecution (APA) and the Egyptian State Lawsuits Authority (ESLA) [4]. The latter two are the only entities that female law graduates can apply to.