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Last Updated: Friday, 5 August 2005, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Women's work: Supreme Court judge
All this week, the BBC World Service's World Today programme has been talking to women in jobs traditionally associated with men.

On Friday, the programme hears from Tahany Al-Gebaly, Egypt's first woman Supreme Court judge.

My presence in the court is, I suppose, part of the process restoring Egyptian women to their rightful place in our society.

In the past, women in Egypt have been leaders, both during the rule of the pharaohs and in Islamic times.

Tahany Al-Gebaly, Egypt's first woman Supreme Court judge
The Egyptian people are civilised and respect any woman who is able to do a responsible job and do it well
Tahany Al-Gebaly

But we have been absent from the judiciary since Egypt started its modern history roughly a century ago.

The truth is, I studied law because I wanted to be a solicitor. I always admired the profession because it would give me a large degree of freedom - freedom to be able to choose the cases I work on.

Of course, there were difficulties, challenges, confrontations and battles in my professional life.

In our society, we went through times in the past when the role of women went backwards. And in general, people are convinced women are less capable than men doing the same things, especially lawyers.

There were some pioneers that prepared the ground before me, but I still had a hard time because of the prevailing culture and the dirty wars launched against me by people who did not like the competition.

Also, because I used to have strong links with political opposition, I was under great pressure and had to pay a price for it.


When I was elected as a member of the board of solicitors bar most of the other members were supporters of political Islam.

They used to say, do not underestimate her ability. That for me was a success in itself. We seem to assume that Egyptian society is backward and does not accept the idea of women improving their position.

The Supreme Court building in Cairo
Women have been absent from the judiciary, says Tahany Al-Gebaly
I was surprised by the fact that most people welcomed the idea of a woman judge on the Supreme Court.

In essence, the Egyptian people are civilised and they respect any woman who is able to do a responsible job and do it well.

While the mass of the population was much in favour of the improved role of women, the intellectuals were still divided about it.

The appointment came as a complete surprise. It was a secret very well kept by the ministry of justice. I did not even know my name was on the list of candidates.

I was both happy and very concerned. First, I had to give up my job as a lawyer, which I liked a lot. On the other hand, I was ecstatic that I was finally about to fulfil the dream of an Egyptian woman becoming a judge.

We were wondering how long women would be kept away from this position. Citizens should have full rights in a modern constitutional state. It does not matter if you are a man or a woman.

If we adopt the concept of equal opportunities, we can change the face of Egypt.

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