Glencoe World History

by Jackson Spielvogel

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What rights did ancient Egyptian women have?

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According to Egyptology professor Janet Johnson, ancient Egyptian women had virtually the same rights as Egyptian men. Unlike in ancient Greece, Egyptian women were legal citizens and could function independently in the public arena. Although their social status was derived from their husbands or fathers--women did not generally work outside the home--women could own property, sign contracts, and bring civil suits to court. Women rarely served as legal witnesses or on juries, but Johnson attributes this to sociological rather than legal factors. Moreover, adultery committed by men was considered just as morally objectionable as adultery committed by women. Likewise, divorce was common in ancient Egypt, and women had the right to divorce their husbands on any grounds. Consequently, Egypt was one of the most egalitarian ancient societies in terms of gender relations in the legal realm.

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