Radwa Helmi made history on Saturday as the first female judge to serve on Egypt’s Council of State, one of the Arab country’s highest courts.
Helmi, appearing in a Cairo courthouse, was among 98 women appointed last year to join the council, one of Egypt’s top judicial bodies, after a decision by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
“March 5 has become a new historic day for Egyptian women,” said National Council of Women (NCW) President Maya Morsi.
This decision came shortly before March 8, International Women’s Day.
Women in Egypt, the most populous Arab country, have fought an uphill battle for years to assert their rights.
Egypt has hundreds of female lawyers, but it took decades for just one to climb the judicial ladder and become a judge.
The first was Tahany al-Gebaly, appointed in 2003 to the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt.
Gebaly held the position for a decade before being removed from office in 2012 by Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist president in office at the time.
Although there are no laws prohibiting women from being judges in Egypt, the justice system in this conservative, Muslim-majority country has traditionally been all-male.
The Council of State was created in 1946 as an independent body which adjudicates mainly on administrative disputes and disciplinary cases.
Since the founding of Egypt as a modern state in the 19th century, women have been marginalized.
Women won the right to vote and stand in public elections in 1956, but their personal rights remained ignored.
Most women have no authority over their children or personal lives, with this responsibility often delegated to male guardians under Sharia-inspired law.
Women currently hold around a quarter of ministerial posts and 168 seats in the 569-member parliament.
In May 2021, the grand imam of Cairo’s prestigious al-Azhar, Egypt’s highest Sunni institution, weighed in on the debate.
Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb said there are no religious edicts preventing women from holding high-ranking positions, traveling alone or having a fair share of inheritance rights.
But he refrained from saying that women should have the same rights as men.