A new family court system recently set up across Egypt will lead to a huge improvement in Egyptian women’s legal rights, advocates say.

A total of 224 courts with about 1,200 judges are being set up to help solve the approximately million cases each year focusing on divorce, alimony, child custody and paternity.

The family courts will replace the century-old institution of personal status courts and their creation marks a significant breakthrough for Egyptian women, whose rights suffered a blow in 1985 when the government reversed some of their earlier gains.

Under the old system, a divorce could be decided by a court but then faced a possible challenge in an appeals court and then a cassation court. Sometimes a divorce was still denied several years after the initial ruling.

Such lengthy and often opaque procedures could lead to situations where women who remarried several years after the first ruling found themselves “legally wed” to two men at the same time, the system’s critics argued.

Proponents of the new system said divorce cases will now be examined by the same court and judge instead of being scattered into separate cases in multiple courts–a situation that subjected women to unnecessary stress and frustration.

Combining courtroom facilities with psychological support, the family courts will attempt to bring about reconciliation between the spouses or lay out a separation deal without resorting to a lawsuit.

For more information:

U.S. Department of Justice
Office on Violence Against Women–
A National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations
(Adobe PDF format):


A set of guidelines dealing with the medical examination of rape and sexual assault victims commissioned and recently made public by the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence against Women is noticeably lacking any mention of emergency contraception, enraging many doctors and victims’ advocates.

The report–the first ever “National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations” issued by the department–provides a detailed, 141-page set of guidelines for criminal justice and health care practitioners in responding to the immediate needs of sexual assault victims.

Yet only one page is devoted to “pregnancy risk evaluation and care.” It advises health care personnel to discuss the possibility of pregnancy with rape victims, administer pregnancy tests if given the patients’ consent, and “discuss treatment options with patients, including reproductive health services.”

Those open-ended guidelines were the final product of a set of protocols that originally included direct mention of emergency contraception, according to several sources in contact with the document’s reviewers who asked to remain anonymous. The Office on Violence against Women watered down the language, creating a glaring blank spot in an otherwise comprehensive report, those sources said.

Discussing emergency contraception is standard medical protocol in examinations of rape victims, and some states even require by that victims be offered it. But the Bush administration has taken steps to limit women’s access to emergency contraception. In May 2004, the federal Food and Drug Administration denied over-the-counter status for emergency contraception, against the recommendation of its own staff and advice of the American Medical Association and other medical authorities.

In response to the Justice Department report, a group of women in the national nursing community are drafting a critique of the handling of the emergency contraception issue, according to a confidential e-mail read over the phone to Women’s eNews. The critique is expected to run in the Journal of Emergency Nursing, an Illinois-based monthly publication.

— Robin Hindery.