Ancient Egypt, a woman’s world – Women’s Rights better than many modern countries

Ancient Egypt, a woman’s world – Women’s Rights better than many modern countries

When feminists today talk about women’s rights and equality with men, they may do well to look to the good old days of ancient Egypt to see how it was really done.

Ancient equal rights. Although the women of ancient Greece could not leave their homes without a spouse or male relative, ancient Egyptian women enjoyed equal privileges with men on many fronts. This included the right to buy, sell, and inherit property; to marry and divorce; and to practice an occupation outside the home. In fact, ancient Egyptian women had more rights than many women around the world today.

How do we know this? As they did with everything else, the Egyptians recorded their legal and economic lives in art and historical inscriptions. And it seems that legal rights and social privileges were different between social classes rather than between genders. In other words, women and men in the same social class enjoyed fairly equal rights.

An Egyptian girl became universally acknowledged as a wife after she physically left the protection of her father’s house and entered her new home. Before the marital home was established, the couple would hire the services of a scribe, who would record their individual assets.

The ancient Egyptian woman had full control of property, including the right to buy and sell land, goods, livestock, and servants, and she could free slaves. A woman could, without the guidance of a man, manage her own property. She could appear in court on her own behalf and sue a party who wronged her, all without a male representative. In fact, there are many recorded instances of women winning lawsuits, particularly in land disputes.

When an ancient Egyptian woman acquired property on her own, through inheritance, gifts, or with money she earned through employment, it was hers to keep before and after her marriage, whether that marriage ended through widowhood or divorce. If her husband requested, she could grant him right to use or borrow the property.

One of the best examples of women’s rights is in the area of wills and estates. An ancient Egyptian woman could inherit one-third of all the community property she acquired through marriage. The remaining estate was divided among the children and siblings of the deceased, and she was free to bequeath property from her husband to her children.

In terms of careers, the work of the upper-class woman was often limited to the home because of her customary role as mother. But ancient art and texts show women as middle-class housekeepers, skilled laborers in household workshops, paid priestesses, and entertainers such as dancers, musicians, and acrobats. All professions were open to educated women and men, including clergy, administrators, business owners, and doctors. There was a woman named Nebet during the sixth Dynasty who was titled vizier, judge, and magistrate. Records mention Lady Pesehet, who is associated with the training of midwives, one of the few references to such training in Egyptian history.

Some of Egypt’s greatest rulers and heroes were women. The best example is Hatshepsut, who reigned as pharaoh of Egypt rather than as Queen. Ancient reports during a military campaign in Nubia tell of the homage she received from rebels defeated on the battlefield. Queen Ahhotep, of the early Eighteenth Dynasty, was granted Egypt’s highest military decoration, the Order of the Fly, at least three times for saving Egypt during the wars of liberation against the Hyksos Invaders from the north.

Women's Rights in Ancient Egypt

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