Violence against women specialized courts: a judicial gender-based lens in Egypt

Awards Edition 21'

Legal Opinion


Mostafa Salah Selim

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) defines gender-based violence against women (GBVAW) as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women and girls. This includes threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” Violence against women and girls is the most omnipresent violation of human rights worldwide, and Egypt is not an exception to this epidemic

Every year, 7.8 million Egyptian women experience all sorts of violence, whether it is committed by a husband/fiancé/partner, family member(s) or stranger(s) in public areas. 36% of ever-married women between the ages of 15-49 have suffered from physical violence. Around 92% of Egypt’s female population were subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM). The Gender Inequality Index of Egypt is 134 out of 153 countries as per the 2020 World Economic Forum Report.

For the first time in Egyptian constitutional history, the 2014 amendments focused on the phenomenon of violence against women in a special and direct way, as its eleventh article explicitly stipulated: “The state commits to the protection of women against all forms of violence, and ensures women empowerment to reconcile the duties of a woman toward her family and her work requirements.” This would give significant momentum to efforts to combat the phenomenon of violence against women in Egypt.

There are several international obligations laid out by international conventions about gender-based violence against women. These include the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Handbook for Legislation of Violence against Women, and the UNODC Handbook for the Judiciary on Effective Criminal Justice Responses to Gender-based Violence against Women and Girls. Therefore, the Egyptian Judiciary adopted a new practice of creating new specialized courts for violence against female-related crimes in all of Egypt’s Elementary Courts based in each governorate of the republic.

Set at the criminal misdemeanor level, these courts specialize in violent crimes that usually target women and girls. While there is not an official legal guide that specifies the cases handled by these specialized courts, practical examples include bullying, discrimination, insult and slander, forced labor, minor or underage marriage, etc.

It is undeniable that this new judicial practice marks a very important milestone in combating violence against women in Egypt. It agrees perfectly with a The UN Handbook for Legislation on Violence against Women recommendation that laws should “provide for the creation of specialized courts or special court proceedings guaranteeing timely and efficient handling of cases of violence against women.”

Scholarly evidence suggests that specialized courts are more effective and responsive in the enforcement of laws on violence against women, given that they are provided with adequate resources. Specialized courts’ judges and personnel are believed to be more gender-sensitive, competent and experienced in dealing with the unique characteristics of violence against women cases, ought to process cases more quickly and efficiently, and will be able to identify repeat offenders and punish them accordingly. This will directly lead to decreasing the burden of victims and achieve both public and private deterrence for violence against women offenders.

That being said, we must acknowledge that GBVAW specialized courts practices are still far from perfect. Having a concentrated number of judges solely dedicated to the entirety of violence against women raises the concern of overworking these judges. Also, lack of special training and adequate funding could lead to counterproductive results towards keeping the vic