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Saturday, October 23, 1999 Published at 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK

World: Middle East

Egyptian women's rights: A century on

Egyptian women still need their husband's permission to travel abroad

By Caroline Hawley in Cairo

When it was published 100 years ago, the book entitled The Liberation of Women caused uproar.

Its author - a judge called Qassem Amin - was the subject of a torrent of criticism after arguing that improving the status of women would help Egypt develop.

A century on, women have made many strides towards to his, and their, goal.

[ image: Egyptian women are an increasing presence in the workforce]
Egyptian women are an increasing presence in the workforce
They can vote; they are significant part of the workforce and there are now two women in the Egyptian cabinet.

But they're not allowed to travel abroad without the permission of their husbands; it's hard for them to initiate divorce; and they can't - like Qassem Amin - become judges.

Scholars from across the Arab world, as well as Europe and the United States, have gathered in Cairo to discuss what's been achieved.

'We haven't progressed'

Hoda Badran, one of the organisers of the commemoration celebrations, says progress has now stalled.

[ image: Egyptian women have a long way to go for true equality]
Egyptian women have a long way to go for true equality
"Yemen has judges, Sudan has judges; the general prosecutor in Syria is a woman. If you compare us to other Arab countries, we are behind. Other countries are going forward.

"Take Kuwait for example: Kuwait didn't have woman voting or having political rights; they are having it now. So it's a progress, even if we had our political rights as Egyptian woman before. But we haven't progressed."

Earlier this year, there was a small step forward.

The Egyptian cabinet decided to cancel a law that allows a rapist to walk free if he marries his victim.

But women activists say there's still a long way to go to remove other discriminatory laws and achieve the liberation of women.

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