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Egypt's penal code stipulates reduced punishment for men who kill their wives, report reveals

Egyptian women hold placards during a demonstration protesting violence against women in Egypt on 22 December 2015 [Amr Sayed/Apaimages]
Egyptian women hold placards during a demonstration protesting violence against women in Egypt on 22 December 2015 [Amr Sayed/Apaimages]

An international women's rights organisation has published a report detailing laws that explicitly discriminate on the basis of sex around the world affecting women, girls and their families.

Equality Now recommends a number of laws be repealed and amended, including Article 237 of Egypt's penal code: "Whoever surprises his wife in the act of adultery and kills her on the spot together with her adulterer-partner shall be punished with detention instead of the penalties prescribed in articles 234 and 235."

Suad Aby-Dayyeh, Equality Now's Middle East and North Africa consultant, told MEMO: "In Equality Now's Beijing +25 report we call on the Egyptian government to amend article 237, which allows for men who kill their wives on discovering them in an act of adultery to receive a lesser punishment than for other forms of murder. Meanwhile, if a woman kills her husband, she will be given a full sentence."

The article contradicts Egypt's own constitution which states that all citizens are equal before the law: "This is an extremely gender discriminatory article and we really hope that Egypt will repeal this law because they have committed to international conventions on human rights and they should adhere to these commitments," adds Aby-Dayyeh.

Whilst Egypt's penal code offers a lesser sentence for men who kill their wives, women who are subject to domestic violence in the country are not protected because domestic abuse – and marital rape – are not explicitly criminalised under Egyptian law.

At the beginning of February a video circulated of a young man shooting his fiancée in Egypt after she broke off the relationship and refused to reconcile with him.

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In December last year an Egyptian man set fire to his wife in Cairo after abusing her for years because she didn't bear him a child.

Activists have consistently pointed out that authorities' failure to hold individuals who carry out domestic abuse to account has emboldened attackers. As a result sexual violence has increased significantly over the past decade.

Equality Now says laws such as a lesser punishment for men who kill their wives, promote and perpetuate violence against girls and women because there is nowhere for them to seek recourse.

"Intimate partner violence is disproportionately inflicted upon women, and laws, such as the one in Egypt, that allow more lenient punishments to be given for men who commit so-called 'honour' killings can result in impunity for this type of crime, and perpetuates domestic violence," says Aby-Dayyeh.

"This is not right or fair and is a violation of a woman's right to live with dignity and free from harm. President al-Sisi urgently needs to close this loophole in Egypt's legal system. "

Since the Arab Spring, Egyptian authorities themselves have upped sexual violence against politically active women in prisons, at protests, or in targeted raids on their homes to try and discourage them from being politically active.

Activists have said that this top-down approach towards sexual abuse has spurred Egyptians on in the street. On New Year's Eve a group of Egyptians carried out a mob sexual assault on a woman in Mansoura as she tried to get into a car.

Reports that circulated afterwards revealed she had asked a nearby policeman to help her but he refused, claiming he had to wait for back up to arrive from the police station.

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