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Why Egyptian men are turning to women's institutions for help

Why Egyptian men are turning to women's institutions for help

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Life Women’s Rights

Thursday 23 March 202305:35 pm
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After losing hope in any mediations of relatives and friends who were asked to intervene, Mustafa Mohamed, 30, had no choice but to turn to a feminist institution to amicably resolve the dispute with his ex-wife, Israa Jamal, 21, instead of proceeding with lengthy and financially exhausting court proceedings.

This is not a precedent in Egypt. Many men are now frequenting women's organizations and institutions, after the old idea that they're hostile to men and incite women to rebel, is beginning to change, in addition to the positive results that some have achieved when it comes to mediating disputes between couples without the need for lawyers and the judiciary.

However some couples, according to the representatives of these institutions, turn to them to make themselves appear as some who are looking for solutions, when in fact they are "trying to end things through divorce or amicable reconciliation, in order to avoid incurring exorbitant court fees and expenses."

Mustafa points to himself and tells Raseef22 with some degree of brokenness and frustration, "I work in a bakery, and I will not be able to afford the costs of the courts, the lawyer, the filing of a separation lawsuit, alimony procedures, and so on." Therefore, he set his sights on reaching a consensual solution and sought the help of the Center For Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance (CEWLA) based in the Boulaq Dakrour neighborhood in Giza Governorate. He felt that this would be more neutral than the interventions of their parents and families coupled with tension and bias, as he put it.

The Center For Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance, known in short as CEWLA, was established in 1995. Its board of directors is chaired by women's rights activist Azza Soliman, and it works on issues of violence against women by providing legal and psychological support and organizing activities aimed at educating women about their rights and training them in a variety of crafts such as knitting and embroidery for their economic empowerment.

Friendly solutions

In July 2022, Mustafa met with the foundation's social support officer, Iman Mohamed. Instead of being presented with a plan for a solution that would end the post-divorce procedures, she suggested that he return to his wife, especially since she had just given birth to their first child. Her suggestion came as a surprise to him, because all he was seeking in the meantime was a final separation, and so he refused immediately.

Iman contacted his ex-wife Israa, and after several sessions, she was able to convince them to sit down and talk together, after which several solutions began to appear in sight. They began to listen to each other and the available options, and in the end they chose to back out of the divorce.

"As soon as we agreed to do that, we summoned the Maazoun (cleric authorized by the government to officiate marriage and divorce) and got remarried," Mustafa says.

Looking to avoid hefty court fees and social stigma, Egyptian men facing marital problems are turning to women’s rights organizations and institutions for solutions

As for the wife, Israa, she tells Raseef22, "I went to the Center For Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance for alimony arrangements and procedures for my husband – I mean the man who was my ex-husband at the time – to see our child, but something strange happened after we discussed the root of our dispute, and I found myself welcoming the idea of getting back together after the solutions that were offered and promises of not repeating the same mistakes."

With joy apparent on her face, she adds, "This is how our (re)marriage was held and ululations of joy were heard, and Iman the social officer at the institute did not stop at that, but rather would contact us from time to time to check that everything is going normally between me and my husband."

According to a report prepared by the the Center For Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance (CEWLA) in October 2022 through its Monitoring and Legal Advice Unit, the number of legal consultations it provided to requesting couples from March to September 2022 amounted to about 382 various consultations, the largest percentage of which were related to khul' (a procedure through which a woman can give a divorce to her husband) and then issues regarding the marital home.

The report indicated that during 2022, legal aid offices filed a total of 111 lawsuits, 41% of which were divorce cases and 38% were alimony cases. The report attributed the increase in the number of alimony claims to high prices, increased inflation and husbands' lack of commitment to pay up.

The report pointed out that khul' claims and lawsuits constitute the fastest and easiest procedural and judicial solution, compared to divorce lawsuits, in addition to the fact that the majority of the defendant husbands do not have the money to pay the financial rights resulting from the divorce, so women prefer to file a khul' lawsuit.

Abdel Fattah Yahya, legal advisor to the Center For Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance (CEWLA), tells Raseef22 that an amicable solution between spouses is the first goal or option, and if negotiations for this fail, the next stage comes with filing lawsuits for divorce or khul', alimony and empowerment in favor of women, through the legal support office at the institution.

According to the official website of the Egyptian Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), the number of divorce cases in the country with a population that reached more than 100 million people in 2021, reached a total of 254,777 cases, including 11,194 final divorce rulings and 9,197 khul' rulings. The census for the year 2022 will be released in August

I never expected him to turn to a feminist organization

In the summer of 2022, Rabiha Mostafa, 28, a woman from Giza Governorate who works as an employee in a food store, was surprised by a phone call from the Center For Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance (CEWLA) informing her of her husband's desire to negotiate the details of their separation to avoid going to court. "It was a real surprise for me, because I didn't expect that he would turn to another party to reach a solution, let alone a women's institution!" she tells Raseef22.

She adds, "Ms. Iman intervened to convince us to return to our marital life, but I refused and held on to my request for divorce, deciding to give up my financial rights in exchange for retaining custody of my three-year-old son. Indeed the divorce took place inside the institution and they brought the authorized Maazoun cleric and we signed an agreement so that he could see the child inside the institution for two hours every month."

Many men are now frequenting women's institutions, after the old idea that they're hostile to men is beginning to change, as well as the positive results they've achieved in mediating disputes between couples without the need for lawyers and judiciary

Her ex-husband, Abdel Karim Mohamed, 35, who works in a store, says that his separation from her came after the intervention of the family, which led to many problems that made their married life difficult, so he thought of a neutral party away from all relatives, and chose the Center For Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance.

He tells Raseef22 that the center's mostly-female employees welcomed him and listened to him attentively, "without making me feel that they were biased towards my ex-wife because the institution is concerned with women and their rights."

Abdel Karim tried to dissuade Rabiha from her intention to proceed with the divorce, and took advantage of the time it took for the Maazoun to come, in order to convince her to do so, but she refused. He says when recalling that day, "The agreement to see my son was the only and most important gain I achieved. I meet him once a month in the institute's building for two hours, where we eat and play together."

Contracts to document the agreements

Iman Mohamed, social support officer at CEWLA, tells Raseef22 that the fact that some men are coming to women's organizations for help means "the message of these organizations is being properly and correctly portrayed, as our role is to take care of the family in a neutral and impartial manner, and to protect the party that is harmed, which is often women."

She assures, "We are not against men, and they have become aware of this as a result of previous positive experiences where we have proven this, and that is why the number of those contacting and reaching out to us is increasing."

As for her tasks when it comes to negotiating between spouses, she confirms that it is very difficult, especially when dealing with the person whose spouse had complained against, whether it's a man or a woman, "Our calls and invitations are often met with extreme violence and verbal attacks and a lot of insults."

Iman laughs out loud, puts her hand over her mouth and says while barely holding back her laughter, that one of the husbands once angrily said to her, "This is none of your business, your women's organizations are the ones who are destroying homes and wrecking families. She's asking for your intervention in order to threaten and intimidate me. Let her try best, I'm not afraid."

She points out that the role of the institution does not end with the end of the dispute, whether with the spouses getting back together or with an amicable divorce and the conclusion of agreements that regulate issues of child custody or financial rights, "but rather it goes on to provide legal guarantees to both parties by signing a contract that includes all the details of the agreement, whether handing over a list of movables, alimony, or even seeing the children, as well as provide a copy to both parties."

"I went to the institution for alimony arrangements and custody procedures, but something strange happened after we discussed the root of our dispute. I began welcoming the idea of getting back together after solutions and sincere promises were offered"

The role of the Center For Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance may not only be limited to solving marital problems, but also those of parents with their daughters. "The idea is to provide a safe environment for women in particular to protect them from physical or sexual abuse or the deprivation of rights such as in work, study, family visits, and so on," Iman explains.

Regarding the policy that Iman follows when negotiating between spouses, she says, "In the event of negotiation for the continuation of the mariage, the points of agreement are determined and an amicable contract is signed with the family's material needs. In addition, a periodic amount of money is determined for the wife to take care of herself or to buy her own things, and a day is determined for her to visit her family."

The interference of the families of both parties isn't allowed during the negotiation, even if just to express an opinion, nor is using alimony as leverage against the wife, "We tell the husband that even with the divorce, he will still be bound to meet the needs of the children."

As a negotiator, Iman continues to communicate with the couple, receives their complaints in the case of any issues, and invites them to periodic meetings to raise awareness and for education. She also points out that the institution provides psychological support and counseling in the event that one of the spouses suffers from a psychological problem that causes disputes between them, through the psychological specialist at the center.

In the case of divorce, Iman continued, "the material and in-kind rights of each party are agreed upon, a date is set for alimony, and a list of movables or the custodian's home is agreed upon, and the divorce procedures take place at the institution's headquarters, and in some cases the husband hands over the list of movables to the institution because he trusts us as a neutral party until the wife receives her dues."

Some are forced

Lamia Lotfy, a trainer in gender and women's rights at the New Woman Foundation, believes that the increasing number of men who are seeking the mediation of women's institutions in the recent period is motivated by necessity and not a personal conviction of the role of these institutions.

She recounts to Raseef22 the story of a person who visited the institution, which is located in the Agouzah neighborhood in Giza Governorate, in February 2023 to complain about his young daughter and ask for help in correcting her behavior and advising her, but in reality "he constantly abuses and beats her, and knows that she visited the institution before she left her home weeks ago, in search of a safe haven."

Therefore, Lamia believes that the father's visit to the institution was not with the intention of solving the problem with his daughter, but rather with the aim of searching for her as well as "to defend himself, deny his mistreatment of her, and even go as far as to accuse her of being insane, and because we do not specify the places of residence of survivors or know their whereabouts as our role is to only guide them, we could not tell him where she was."

As for husbands, she recalls that some of them know that their wives will complain about them to women's associations or hire lawyers to file lawsuits, so they take the initiative to resort to these associations or institutions "to show themselves as individuals seeking solutions and trying to save the family, or for fear of the difficulties and costs of litigation, so they ask for amicable solutions."

She adds that some other men, after exhausting amicable solutions, turn to human rights organizations as a last resort to avoid conflicts in the courts.

The New Woman Foundation was established in 1984 and began its activity by forming an informal group, then officially registered in 1991 as a non-profit civil organization under the name of the New Woman Research Center, and then registered as a private institution with the Ministry of Social Solidarity, under the name of the New Woman Foundation (NWF).

Chaired by gender researcher Nevine Ebeid, whose vision is to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women in the economic, social, cultural and political fields, whether it's related to the cultural, political or legislative system.

Regarding the work of the New Woman Foundation, Lamia points out that it is based on issues of gender-based violence through legal support, especially cases of extortion, physical and sexual violence, as well as providing legal advice.

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