Uneducated, unemployed, and victims of fraud and extortion, Egypt’s female debtors – known as ‘Gharemaat’ – are imprisoned for as long as 30 years without them actually knowing their crime, many leave behind their children. 70 percent of loans in Egypt are now given to women as a form of exploitation.
Women have no option to take out loans for various reasons such as marriages, education, medical needs etc. For generations of poverty, people are desperate and willing to do anything to get some money. Some people take advantage of their desperation by tricking these women into signing a receipt that is over the agreed amount, for example a loan of £40 can become £150, these women are none the wiser due to being illiterate. There is no clear statistic detailing the number of women incapable of repaying the loan. But figures indicate that tens of thousands of women fail to repay and end up in prison. Women are kept in small dark cramped cells, each cell holds more than 8 women with limited beds some women have to sleep on the cold hard concrete floor.
Loans can be a lucrative business, businessmen add interest every time they don’t pay their debts on time, so the amount keeps increasing. Sometimes it goes up to 50,000 or 100,000 EGP, which means women can be sentenced for up to 30 to 50 years.
The crime is known as ‘Betrayal to Municipality,’ evidence presented can even be a receipt that a shop vendor produces to show an unpaid loan. “According to Egyptian criminal law, sentences for defaulters can vary. Within the Egyptian legal framework, the higher the number of loans owed, the longer the potential prison sentence is. Once the lender sues the debtor, the government pays them their outstanding debt, driving criminality and criminal behaviour among lenders.
We are calling for global change to stop the ongoing protection of individuals that ruin lives of innocent. This impunity must be tackled and defeated if women are to be truly empowered and free to live full and fulfilling lives in line with their human rights. [Lucy Rae, Forgotten Women]
Women face difficulties re-integrating into their communities after being released from prison due to the social stigma attached to prisoners. Women in Egypt are locked in generational poverty trying to survive. The failure of such a system is evident, and change is needed so that a better method of borrowing and lending can be established.
Whilst we are working to bring about changes, help set free 3 women for £400, we work case by case to help the most vulnerable of women. Please do get in touch for more information.