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Analysing The Women Rights In Egypt Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 5442 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The term womens right refers to freedoms and entitlements of women and girls of all ages. These rights may or may not be institutionalized, ignored or suppressed by law, local custom, and behavior in a particular society. These liberties are grouped together and differentiated from broader notions of human rights because they often differ from the freedoms inherently possessed by or recognized for men and boys and because activists for this issue claim an inherent historical and traditional bias against the exercise of rights by women and girls.

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Issues commonly associated with notions of women’s rights include, though are not limited to, the right: to bodily integrity and autonomy; to vote (suffrage); to hold public office; to work; to fair wages or equal pay; to own property; to education; to serve in the military or be conscripted; to enter into legal contracts; and to have marital, parental and religious rights. Women and their supporters have campaigned and in some places continue to campaign for the same rights as men.

Women in ancient Egyptian:

In ancient Egypt, women’s rights reached a level that has rarely been equaled in any civilization right up to modern times. This was unusual in the ancient world and led to condemnation from neighboring states.

Rather than being seen as the weaker sex, women were often portrayed as being just as violence as men.  Queens are shown crushing their enemies; executing prisoners and firing arrows at male opponents in battle.

Women were also treated the same under criminal law and would suffer the same punishments as men for their crimes, including being executed if convicted of a capital offence.  However if it was found the offender was pregnant then her execution was delayed until after the birth.

Although most official posts were given to men, women were known to hold high office.  There were female overseers, governors and judges and at least one, Queen Hetepheres II, ran the civil service.  Two women were given the role of vizier (prime minister), the highest administrative position and six even achieved the title of pharaoh.

Women from poorer families were also free to find work and were often employed in traditional female roles such as maids, nannies and midwives. 

According to Joseph Perkins of Minnesota State University, some are known to have started small businesses out of their homes often considerably increasing the family income through making and selling products such as linen or perfume.  Professional opportunities were also available to some women, such as director of dance and even physicians.  Female doctors are known to have been skilled enough to perform caesarean sections and to surgically remove cancerous breasts.

The suffrage awarded to women allowed them to enjoy a high level of financial freedom.  Possessions, property and debt acquired by a woman through labour or inheritance was seen as separate from her husband and if she became a widow, she was entitled to inherit one third of the property they jointly owned, with the rest divided between the late husband’s children and siblings.

Despite their freedoms, Egyptian women were most commonly bestowed with the title of ‘Lady of the House’ and were expected to run the home and bear children.  For poorer families, large numbers of offspring were necessary to provide extra sources of labour and income but for the wealthy few.  With both male and female servants to tend to daily chores and child rearing, richer women spent much of their time in leisure pursuits like listening to music, taking care of their pets, playing board games, eating good food and drinking fine wines.

It is as mothers, sisters, wives and daughters to pharaohs, that royal women were most influential to the state. Pharaohs also had a host of ‘minor wives’, who often were able to wield some influence and as succession did not necessarily go to the eldest son, they had the opportunity to become mother to a pharaoh.

Pharaohs would often have a host of women known as ‘Ornaments of the King’ who were chosen for their beauty and employed to entertain with singing and dancing.  Although this seems more in keeping with treatment of women elsewhere, in Egypt, they were important participants in court life and were active in royal functions, state events and religious ceremonies.

Women often played a key role in the priesthood with royal women holding the title ‘God’s Wife’, a position of great political significance second only to the pharaoh, for whom they sometimes stood in.  Female priestesses also played a significant role in the religious life of ancient Egypt, participating alongside men in rituals, earning a living as professional mourners and sometimes acting as funerary priests.

As warriors, intellectuals, priestesses, political figures and even rulers, the women of ancient Egypt enjoyed a large degree of suffrage.  Many had the opportunity to advance themselves to an extent that was not achieved again until the twentieth century and a financial equality that many women still fight for to this day.

Women in Egypt now a day:

Rural and lower-class Egyptians generally believed that women were related to men. Women were expected to be under control of male relatives, to avoid contact with men who were not from the family, and to veil themselves in public. As children women learned to accept dependency on their fathers and older brothers. After marriage women expected their husbands to make all decisions. Early married life could be a time of extreme subordination and insecurity. The new wife usually lived with or near her husband’s family and was expected to help her mother-in-law in the house. A young wife was under pressure from her husband and his family until she gets pregnant. Barrenness was a woman’s worst possible misfortune, and not giving birth to a son was almost as bad. Women who had only daughters were called “mothers of brides.” Most families continued having children until they had at least one son. As the woman’s gets married, and her sons matured, her position in the family grew more secure.

The sexual behavior and reputation of the women of a line age were the most important components of a family’s honor. A bad reputation for one woman meant a bad reputation for the whole line age. Honor was essential to social life; without it even a minimal social standing in the community was impossible. Men were especially interested in maintaining honor. Women were always on their best behavior around men from other families because they were afraid of getting a bad reputation. A bad reputation could disgrace the men of her family. A disgraced husband could restore his status, however, through divorce. Most disgraced fathers and brothers in rural and lower-class urban families, however, believed that honor could only be restored by killing the daughter or sister suspected of sexual misconduct. Family members who murdered the women were prepared to accept legal penalties for their actions.

Women have traditionally been preoccupied with household tasks and child rearing and have rarely had opportunities for contact with men outside the family. But since the 1952 Revolution, social changes, especially in education, have caused many women to spend time in public places among men who were not related to them. To limit women’s contact with these men, practices such as veiling and gender segregation at schools, work, and recreation have become commonplace. Furthermore, lower-class families, especially in Upper Egypt, have tended to withdraw girls from school as they reached puberty to minimize their interaction with men. Lower-class men frequently preferred marriage to women who had been secluded rather than to those who had worked or attended secondary school.

Egypt’s laws pertaining to marriage and divorce favored the social position of men. Muslim husbands were traditionally allowed to have up to four wives at a time in accordance with Islamic religious custom, but a woman could have only one husband at a time. A Muslim man could divorce his wife with ease by saying “I divorce thee” on three separate occasions in the presence of witnesses. A woman wishing to dissolve a marriage had to instigate legal proceedings and prove to a court that her husband had failed to support her or that his behavior was having a harmful moral effect on the family. The laws required men to support their ex-wives for only one year after a divorce, and the fathers gained custody of the children. A man faced few or no penalties if he refused to provide equal support to his wives or if he refused to pay alimony to his divorced wife. Divorce was much more difficult for Copts than it was for Muslims. Common law regulated the marriages and divorces of Copts.

A new law reversed many of the rights accorded to women in 1979. A woman lost her automatic right to divorce her husband if he married a second wife. She could still petition a court to consider her case, but a judge would grant a divorce only if it were in the interests of the family. If a divorce were granted, the judge would also determine what an appropriate residence was for the divorced woman and her children.

Since the early 1970s, women’s status has been changing, mostly because an increasing number of women have joined the nonagricultural workforce. According to government estimates, the number of working women doubled from 500,000 to 1 million between 1978 and 1980. By 1982 women accounted for 14 percent of all wage-earning and salaried employees throughout the country. Although substantial numbers of women were in the professions, particularly education, engineering, and medicine, most women held low-paying jobs in factories, offices, and service industries. Half of all employed women held jobs such as street cleaners, janitors, hotel and domestic servants, and hospital aides. In 1990 women accounted for more than 12 percent of all industrial workers; most female factory workers were in textiles, food processing, and pharmaceuticals.

Strategy and Proposal

1-Reasons for choosing the topic:

My main reason for choosing this topic to be my documentary because a lot of people didn’t know what is the women right and how the women in the ancient Egyptians having a very high position were and was much honored at that time. Today a lot of men are knowing that women having all their rights and even more than they deserve.

In addition, this documentary will be exposing the different between the women in ancient Egyptian which she was having all her rights and even more, and the women now a day in Egypt which she suffering and fight to get her minimum rights in living a good life.

Women were having their rights in the old ancient Egyptian era from 7000 years ago but now in the post modernity era the women still fighting and suffering to get their right.

If we compare us to other Arab countries, we are behind. Other countries are going forward like in Yemen has judges, Sudan has judges; the general prosecutor in Syria is a woman.

For that reason it’s important to discuss this topic to let all people from men women and teenagers know the rights for women and what could she do to asking for her rights.

2-Message of the documentary:

The main message from this documentary is to raise awareness of men about the women right to know how to treat them and may be trying to help women to get their rights. Also, to raise awareness of women and girls because they should know their rights which Qassem Amen and Huda Saharawi fight to gutted for them. Also, to know that women rights were settled from the great ancient Egyptian era not only when Qassem Amen wrote about it, in ancient Egyptian era women were having their all rights so all women and girls should take them their leaders and do like them or try to be like them and get their rights.

3-Target audience:

The main target audience related to this documentary is women , ages from 25 to 45who suffering from being treated badly or didn’t get their rights that they deserves.

The young girls, ages from 18 to 24, who are not knowing their history or their rights and they going to graduated and starting their carrier life. They should decide what they want to be like their great ancient Egyptian women or give up and don’t get their rights.

Also, men, ages from 25 to 45, they should know what women right is and to know how to treat women.

4-Expected interviews:

Random people’s opinion about women rights to know what they know about it.

People who are working in women rights to help us to know more about what women right is.

Egyptian writer wrote about women right in ancient Egyptian era to elaborate how they got their rights.

Interview with Mona Helmy an Egyptian journalist who wrote a lot of articles about women write now a day.

5-shooting places:

Shots for women infront of courts trying to get their rights.

Shots for Doctor Mona Helmy in her office.

Shots for seminars about women rights.

Shots for people in the streets.

6-Sequence of the documentary:

The documentary will start by showing some footages for ancient Egyptian women queens and gods

Then some other footage for women in Egypt suffering infront of courts trying to get their rights.

Then an Egyptology will talk about how the women in ancient Egyptian getting their rights

Then the documentary will then proceed giving people’s opinion about women rights now a day.

Then the Egyptian Dr Mona Helmy will discuss the women rights now a day.

Finally, will telling the people how to try learning from our Egyptian civilization and let the women get their minimum rights.

7-Visual list:

The documentary will include some footages of

8-Question of the documentary:

Random people in the street:

What did you know about women rights?

Do you know any thing about women rights in ancient Egyptian era?

Did you think women take all her rights?

Do you think women could be a judge or not and why?

Random women infront of court:

What is your case?

Did the low help you in getting your right quickly?

Did you think you have all your rights?

Dr.Mona Helmy:

What is your opinion about women today in Egypt?

Did she get all her wrights?

Did your article about women rights do something for women?

In your opinion, what should the Egyptian women do to get all her rights?

9-Script of the documentary:



Situation Analysis

1-Background of the topic:

Women in ancient Egyptian:

An exception to most other ancient societies, Egyptian women achieved parity with Egyptian men. They enjoyed the same legal and economic rights, at least in theory, and this concept can be found in Egyptian art and contemporary manuscripts. The disparities between people’s legal rights were based on differences in social class and not on gender. Legal and economic rights were afforded to both men and women.

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Egyptian women’s rights extended to all legally defined areas of Egyptian civilization. Women could manage, own, and sell private property, which included slaves, land, portable goods, servants, livestock, and money. Women could resolve legal settlements. Women could conclude any kind of legal settlement. Women could appear as a contracting partner in a marriage contract or a divorce contract; they could execute testaments; they could free slaves; women could make adoptions. Women were entitled to sue at law. This amount of freedom was at variance with that of the Greek women who required a designated male, called a kourios, to represent or stand for her in all legal contracts and proceedings. This male was her husband, father or brother.

An Egyptian woman could acquire possessions in many ways. She could receive it as gifts or as an inheritance from her parents or husband. Or she could receive it from purchases with goods which she earned either through employment, or which she borrowed. A woman had claims to up to one-third of all the community property in her marriage.

Women’s legal rights:

The Egyptian woman’s rights extended to all the legally defined areas of society. From the bulk of the legal documents, we know that women could manage and dispose of private property, including: land, portable goods, servants, slaves, livestock, and money (when it existed), as well as financial instruments (i.e., endowments and annuities). A woman could administer all her property independently and according to her free will. She could conclude any kind of legal settlement. She could appear as a contracting partner in a marriage contract or a divorce contract; she could execute testaments; she could free slaves; she could make adoptions. She was entitled to sue at law. It is highly significant that a woman in Egypt could do all of the above and initiate litigation in court freely without the need of a male representative. This amount of freedom was at variance with that of the Greek woman who required a designated male, called a kourios, to represent or stand for her in all legal contracts and proceedings. This male was her husband, father or brother.

Women’s property rights:

There were several ways for an Egyptian woman to acquire possessions and real property. Most frequently, she received it as gifts or as an inheritance from her parents or husband, or else, she received it through purchases–with goods which she earned either through employment, or which she borrowed. Under Egyptian property law, a woman had claim to one-third of all the community property in her marriage, i.e. the property which accrued to her husband and her only after they were married. When a woman brought her own private property to a marriage (e.g., as a dowry), this apparently remained hers, although the husband often had the free use of it. However, in the event of divorce her property had to be returned to her, in addition to any divorce settlement that might be stipulated in the original marriage contract.

A wife was entitled to inherit one-third of that community property on the death of her husband, while the other two-thirds was divided among the children, followed up by the brothers and sisters of the deceased. To circumvent this possibility and to enable life to receive either a larger part of the share, or to allow her to dispose of all the property, a husband could do several things:

1) In the Middle Kingdom, he could draw up an imyt-pr, a “house document,” which was a legal unilateral deed for donating property. As a living will, it was made and perhaps executed while the husband was still alive. In this will, the husband would assign to his wife what he wished of his own private property, i.e., what he acquired before his marriage. An example of this is the imyt-pr of Wah from el-Lahun. 2) If there were no children, and the husband did not wish his brothers and sisters to receive two-thirds of the community property, he could legally adopt his wife as his child and heir and bequeath all the property to her. Even if he had other children, he could still adopt his wife, so that, as his one of his legal offspring, she would receive some of the two-thirds share, in addition to her normal one-third share of the community property.

A woman was free to bequeath property from her husband to her children or even to her own brothers and sisters (unless there was some stipulation against such in her husband’s will). One papyrus tells us how a childless woman, who after she inherited her husband’s estate, raised the three illegitimate children who were born to him and their female household slave (such liaisons were fairly common in the Egyptian household and seem to have borne no social stigma). She then married the eldest illegitimate step-daughter to her younger brother, whom she adopted as her son, that they might receive the entire inheritance.

A woman could also freely disinherit children of her private property, i.e., the property she brought to her marriage or her share of the community property. She could selectively bequeath that property to certain children and not to others. Such action is recorded in the Will of Naunakht.

Women in contracts:

Women in Egypt were consistently concluding contracts, including: marriage and divorce settlements, engagements of wet-nurses, purchases of property, even arrangements for self-enslavement. Self-enslavement in Egypt was actually a form of indentured servitude. Although self-enslavement appears to have been illegal in Egypt, it was practiced by both men and women. To get around the illegality, the servitude was stipulated only for a limited number of years, although it was usually said to be “99 years.”

Under self-enslavement, women often technically received a salary for their labor. Two reasons for which a woman might be forced into such an arrangement are:

(1) as payment to a creditor to satisfy bad debts;

(2) to be assured of one’s provisions and financial security, for which a person might even pay a monthly fee, as though they were receiving a service. However, this fee would equal the salary that the provider had to pay for her labor; thus, no “money” would be exchanged. Since this service was a legal institution, then a contract was drawn up stipulating the conditions and the responsibilities of the involved parties.

In executing such an arrangement, a woman could also include her children and grandchildren, alive or unborn. One such contract of a woman who bound herself to the temple of Saknebtynis states:

The female servant (so & so) has said before my master, Saknebtynis, the great god, ‘I am your servant, together with my children and my children’s children. I shall not be free in your precinct forever and ever. You will protect me; you will keep me safe; you will guard me. You will keep me sound; you will protect me from every demon, and I will pay you 1-1/4 kita of copper . . . until the completion of 99 years, and I will give it to your priests monthly.’

If such women married male “slaves,” the status of their children depended on the provisions of their contracts with their owners.

Women before the bar:

Egyptian women had the right to bring lawsuits against anyone in open court, and there was no gender-based bias against them, and we have many cases of women winning their claims. A good example of this fact is found in the Inscription of Mes. This inscription is the actual court record of a long and drawn- out private land dispute which occurred in the New Kingdom. Significantly, the inscription shows usfour things: (1) women could manage property, and they could inherit trusteeship of property; (2) women could institute litigation (and appeal to the court of the vizier); (3) women were awarded legal decisions (and had decisions reversed on appeal); (4) women acted as witnesses before a court of law.

However, based upon the Hermopolis Law Code of the third century B.C., the freedom of women to share easily with their male relatives in the inheritance of landed property was perhaps restricted somewhat. According to the provisions of theHermopolis Law Code, where an executor existed, the estate of the deceased was divided up into a number of parcels equal to the number of children of the deceased, both alive and dead. Thereafter, each male child (or that child’s heirs), in order of birth, took his pick of the parcels. Only when the males were finished choosing, were the female children permitted to choose their parcels (in chronological order). The male executor was permitted to claim for himself parcels of any children and heirs who predeceased the father without issue. Female executors were designated when there were no sons to function as such. However, the code is specific that–unlike male executors–they could not claim the parcels of any dead children.

Still, it is not appropriate to compare the provisions of the Hermopolis Law Code to the Inscription of Mes, since the latter pertains to the inheritance of an office, i.e., a trusteeship of land, and not to the land itself. Indeed, the system of dividing the estate described in the l aw code–or something similar to it- -might have existed at least as early as the New Kingdom, since the Instructions of Any contains the passage, “Do not say, ‘My grandfather has a house. An enduring house, it is called’ (i.e., don’t brag of any future inheritance), for when you take your share with your brothers, your portion may only be a storehouse.”

Female literacy:

It is uncertain, generally, how literate the Egyptian woman was in any period. Baines and Eyre suggest very low figures for the percentage of the literate in the Egypt population, i.e., only about 1% in the Old Kingdom (i.e., 1 in 20 or 30 males). Other Egyptologists would dispute these estimates, seeing instead an amount at about 5-10% of the population. In any event, it is certain that the rate of literacy of Egyptian women was well behind that of men from the Old Kingdom through the Late Period.

Lower class women, certainly were illiterate; middle class women and the wives of professional men, perhaps less so. The upper class probably had a higher rate of literate women. In the Old and Middle Kingdoms, middle and upper class women are occasionally found in the textual and archaeological record with administrative titles that are indicative of a literate ability. In the New Kingdom the frequency at which these titles occur declines significantly, suggesting an erosion in the rate of female literacy at that time (let alone the freedom to engage in an occupation). However, in a small number of tomb representations of the New Kingdom, certain noblewomen are associated with scribal palettes, suggesting a literate ability. Women are also recorded as the senders and recipients of a small number of letters in Egypt (5 out of 353). However, in these cases we cannot be certain that they personally penned or read these letters, rather than employed the services of professional scribes.

Many royal princesses at court had private tutors, and most likely, these tutors taught them to read and write. Royal women of the Eighteenth Dynasty probably were regularly trained, since many were functioning leaders. Since royal princesses would have been educated, it then seems likely that the daughters of the royal courtiers were similarly educated. In the inscriptions, we occasionally do find titles of female scribes among the middle class from the Middle Kingdom on, especially after the Twenty- sixth Dynasty, when the rate of literacy increased throughout the country. The only example of a female physician in Egypt occurs in the Old Kingdom. Scribal instruction was a necessary first step toward medical training.

Women in public:

The Egyptian woman in general was free to go about in public; she worked out in the fields and in estate workshops. Certainly, she did not wear a veil, which is first documented among the ancient Assyrians (perhaps reflecting a tradition of the ancient semitic- speaking people of the Syrian and Arabian Deserts). However, it was perhaps unsafe for an Egyptian woman to venture far from her town alone.

Ramesses III boasts in one inscription, “I enabled the woman of Egypt to go her own way, her journeys being extended where she wanted, without any person assaulting her on the road.” A different view of the traveling women is found in the Instructions of Any, “Be on your guard against a woman from abroad, who is not known in town, do not have sex with her.” So by custom, there might have been a reputation of impiousness or looseness associated with a woman traveling alone in Egypt.

Despite the legal freedom of women to travel about, folk custom or tradition may have discouraged that. So, e.g., earlier in the Old Kingdom, Ptahhotep would write, “If you desire to make a friendship last in a house to which you have access to its master as a brother or friend in any place where you might enter, beware of approaching the women. It does not go well with a place where that is done.”

However, the theme of this passage might actually refer to violating personal trust and not the accessibility of women, per se. However, mores and values apparently changed by the New Kingdom. The love poetry of that era, as well as certain letters, are quite frank about the public accessibility and freedom of women.

Women’s occupations :

In general, the work of the upper and middle class woman was limited to the home and the family. This was not due to an inferior legal status, but was probably a consequence of her customary role as mother and bearer of children, as well as the public role of the Egyptian husbands and sons who functioned as the executors of the mortuary cults of their deceased parents. It was the traditional role of the good son to bury his parents, support their funerary cult, to bring offerings regularly to the tombs, and to recite the offering formula. Because women are not regularly depicted doing this in Egyptian art, they probably did not often assume this role. When a man died without a surviving son to preserve his name and present offerings, then it was his brother who was often depicted in the art doing so. Perhaps because it was the males who were regularly entrusted with this important religious task, that they held the primary position in public life.

As far as occupations go, in the textual sources upper class woman are occasionally described as holding an office, and thus they might have executed real jobs. Clearly, though, this phenomenon was more prevalent in the Old Kingdom than in later periods (perhaps due to the lower population at that time). In Wente’s publication of Egyptian letters, he notes that of 353 letters known from Egypt, only 13 provide evidence of women functioning with varying degrees of administrative authority.

On of the most exalted administrative titles of any woman who was not a queen was held by a non-royal women named Nebet during the Sixth Dynasty, who was entitled, “Vizier, Judge and Magistrate.” She was the wife of the nomarch of Coptos and grandmother of King Pepi I.

However, it is possible that the title was merely honorific and granted to her posthumously. Through the length of Egyptian history, we see many titles of women which seem to reflect real administrative authority, including one woman entitled, “Second Prophet (i.e. High Priest) of Amun” at the temple of Karnak, which was, otherwise, a male office. Women could and did hold male administrative positions in Egypt. However, such cases are few, and thus appear to be the exceptions to tradition. Given the relative scarcity of such, they might reflect extraordinary individuals in unusual circumstances.

Women functioned as leaders, e.g., kings, dowager queens and regents, even as usurpers of rightful heirs, who were either their step-sons or nephews. We find women as nobility and landed gentry managing both large and small estates, e.g., the lady Tchat who started as overseer of a nomarch’s household with a son of middling status; married the nomarch; was elevated, and her son was also raised in status. Women functioned as middle class housekeepers, servants, fieldhands, and all manner of skilled workers inside the household and in estate-workshops.

Women could also be national heroines in Egypt. Extraordinary cases include: Queen Ahhotep of the early Eighteenth Dynasty. She was renowned for saving Egypt during the wars of liberation against the Hyksos, and she was praised for rallying the Egyptian tro


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