The story of Hadeer Mekawy, an Egyptian woman who recently gave birth to a healthy baby boy named Adam, is stirring some intense debate on social media networks. 

Why? Because Hadeer –who married under customary law and who was divorced by her husband shortly before giving birth- has now found herself battling for her child’s custody, and for her reputation. 

She also wants her son to be registered, striking a blow to Egypt's well-entrenched patriarchy. 

Family law is mostly governed by Sharia in Egypt, which leans strongly towards men over women when it comes to custody battles. 

What makes the matter more complicated is that Hadeer and her former partner, who was identified by local media as Mahmoud Mustafi Fahim Barghout, were not formally married, leaving her and her child in legislative limbo. 

Faced with the possibility of having her child remain “illegitimate”, or even losing him altogether, Hadeer hired a lawyer to prove her son’s paternity. Aside from that, and instead of hiding for fear of shame and admonishment, she bravely took to social media to shed light on her situation and call for support.

The 27-year-old insists she wants to change societal norms for her and her son's sake. 

Some have shamed her...

We have reached the age when the person who does things which are forbidden in religion is called open minded, and the woman who has extra-martial sex is called a single mother and those who are god fearing and patient are called complicated.

Hadeer Makawy, your filthiness has left me tongue-tied, I hope your son dies before he even has a chance to grow up ...  

Hadeer Mekawy, have we really declined to such a state?! Adulteresses now having a say, and wanting to change societal attitudes? 

But, others have voiced support

Not the first case

In 2009, Hind El Hinnawy - a young costume designer- dragged famous Egyptian actor Ahmed El Fishawy to court after he had refused to acknowledge their customary marriage, which resulted in her pregnancy.  

After giving birth, she faced the stigma of unwed motherhood and the prospect of illegitimacy for her unborn child, leading her to take matters to court. 

She won the case against all odds, even after he appealed it the first time, forcing Fishawy to recognize both his relationship with El Hinnawy and his paternity of their daughter, Leena. 

Upon hearing the verdict, she reportedly sobbed, and said that she hopes her willingness to take a public stand and fight for the rights of her daughter will encourage other women to press forward with paternity cases for thousands of illegitimate children who have no legal rights under Egyptian law, according to voanews.

Wedged between tradition, societal attitudes and religion, single mothers in the Arab world are a tough idea to forward. They face discrimination, sexism, and societal exclusion, and as a result their children suffer the consequences. Many becoming stateless. 

This conversation over so-called "urfi" or "customary, common law" marriage is an important one. In Egypt, 9,000 of 14,000 pending paternity cases are the result of "urfi" marriages.  

According to The Sustainable Demographic Dividend, a New York based international research center dedicated to the analysis of significant social trends, Egypt has the highest number of children living in single-parent households in the Middle East. However, these proportions are conditioned but not determined by nonmarital childbearing. 

The regions where children are least likely to be reared in single-parent households are Asia and the Middle East, where cohabitation and non-marital childbearing are rare. Less than 1 percent of children are born out of wedlock in China, Egypt, India and Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

According to Adel Iskandar, a media scholar and lecturer at Georgetown University, most attempts to reduce “illegitimacy” rates in Egypt focus on invigorating religious teachings and prohibiting gender-mixing. 

"This is an impractical approach that does not address the conditions and lived experiences of 'illegitimacy.' We need civic, not religious, solutions to this problem. We need solutions that unravel patriarchy, not entrench it. We need solutions that help integrate those who are different and forestall deepened ex-communication. Instead, we must tackle the economic disparity which has redrawn Egypt’s marital patterns.

For the tens of thousands of Egyptians who were born out of wedlock, mostly away from the public eye, they deserve a measure of dignity that starts with the obliteration of the very notion of 'illegitimacy.'"