Improving Women’s Rights in Tunisia
While Tunisia has the most progressive laws on women’s rights in relation to other parts of the Arab world, patriarchal values still persist. In 2010, a study from the Tunisian government revealed that many of the country’s women are sexually, verbally and physically abused. However, improving women’s rights in Tunisia has become an initiative for many organizations.

The U.N.’s Work to Represent Women in Politics

In June 2016, Tunisia’s parliament approved an amendment to ensure a greater representation of women in local politics. Applying to regional and municipal elections, the amendment included a proposal for “horizontal and vertical” gender parity in Article 49 of Tunisia’s electoral law. This also marked the first time that 73 Tunisian female parliamentarians (from different backgrounds, parties and political ideologies) conducted their own lobbying in favor of the horizontal and vertical parity.

“Besides being a first in our region, the adoption of horizontal and vertical parity in electoral law is a timely achievement because it will guarantee effective participation of women in the upcoming decentralization process in Tunisia,” said Leila Rhiwi, the U.N. Women Representative from Maghreb. In March 2016, U.N. Women also began a project with Tunisia’s parliamentarians that would support the implementation of the women’s caucus. This will work toward improving women’s rights in Tunisia by increasing their representation in local and national politics.

Aswat Nissa Training Tunisia’s Women For Political Lives

Many Tunisian women find ways to exercise the power given to them by the country’s progressive laws. Some of these ways include Tunisian women attending political academies that began after the country’s Arab Spring revolution in 2011. In October 2016, the political academy Aswat Nissa was revealed to hold monthly training sessions for Tunisian women who enter political roles.

Aswat Nissa teaches Tunisian women many necessary political skills, including how to debate effectively and draft gender-sensitive budgets. Aswat Nissa enrolled forty Tunisian women in 2016.

“I have visited parliament before, but when you’re an assembly member, it’s something else. You are part of this world,” said Aswat Nissa graduate Karima Tagaz.

Tunisia’s New Law Against Gender-Based Violence

In October 2016, Tunisia’s parliament debated a bill to strengthen legislation on violence against women. The bill would be incorporated into Tunisia’s legislative and government policies, defining gender-based violence, outlawing marital rape and increasing penalties for sexual harassment in the workplace. The bill was approved on July 26, 2017, and served as a landmark step toward improving women’s rights in Tunisia.

“By enacting this new law, the Tunisian authorities have shown a commitment to the rights of women and are setting a standard that many others would do well to follow,” said Amna Guellali, Tunisia’s office director at Human Rights Watch. The new law included requirements to assist Tunisia’s victims of domestic violence, providing them with legal and medical support. Tunisia’s authorities intend to ensure adequate funding and political will to fully place the new law into effect.

A Proposal For Tunisian Women to Share in Inheritance

In January 2018, the Committee on Individual Freedoms and Equality (CIFE) planned a proposal for Tunisia’s women to share in men’s inheritance and pass their family name onto their children.

“Tunisia is once again pioneering and irreversibly moving toward advancement,” Bochra Bel Haj Hmida, CIFE’s chairwoman, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “All discriminatory laws in the family space and public space are included in the commission’s tasks.”

CIFE’s proposed bill will also ban dowries, allowing Tunisia’s men and women to share their roles as head of the household. CIFE planned to present its recommendations to Tunisia’s president on Feb. 20, 2018, but requested a postponement until after municipal elections on May 6. The news site ANSAmed said that CIFE did not want its proposal to become an issue of electoral tension.

Tunisia’s parliament, the U.N. and CIFE have made much progress in strengthening the representation of Tunisia’s women in politics and protecting their freedom. Many groups will continue working toward improving women’s rights in Tunisia.

– Rhondjé Singh Tanwar

Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in TunisiaIn the context of a tumultuous post-revolutionary transition, Tunisia struggles with walking a moral and political tightrope when balancing women’s rights. The revolution that began in 2011 toppled a violent dictatorship and produced a constitution ruling Tunisia a civil state; yet, the impact of Islam on many laws – particularly those governing women’s rights – has made implementing the constitution a steep goal.

Tunisia has long been the leader in regard to women’s rights in the region – particularly among Muslim-majority countries. Although women’s rights organizations have campaigned for decades, their first recognized achievement was persuading legislators to make Tunisia the first country to eliminate a law protecting rapists from punishment if they marry their victims.

Experts worry that Tunisia faces an “identity crisis” as it struggles to enact its 2014 constitution without a functioning constitutional court for checks and balances. The constitution promises full gender equality as a vague concept and specifies international treaties outweighing domestic law, but does not consider the weight of current family law.

Amid this identity crisis, gender equality in the feminist sense has yet to be agreed upon as it stands in opposition to many beliefs of Islam. A recent review of inheritance law – which states that a man should receive a share of inheritance equal to the portions of two women – has been under debate, as some women have strongly supported the review but many oppose it, citing their religion as a defense of the law. True integration of the sexes in Tunisia may be out of reach until the dust of the revolution settles, but they have made significant strides in the past decade. The most recent events of women’s rights in Tunisia include:

  1. In July 2017, the “Marry the Rapist” article was repealed.
  2. In July 2017, a new domestic violence law was approved by Tunisian Parliament that criminalizes public sexual harassment, employment of children as domestic workers and domestic violence committed within the family. It fines employers who discriminate in pay and directs the Health Ministry to train medical staff in detecting and preventing violence against women and in schools. It allows women to seek restraining orders without filing criminal cases or divorce. It also outlines requirements to provide legal, medical and mental support to victims of domestic violence.
  3. In August 2017, President Essebsi announced the review of inheritance law.
  4. In September 2017, a law barring Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men was repealed.

These legal strides are minimally effective without a full court to enforce them – even government officials have admitted that laws themselves are not enough. To combat the problems fully, certain organizations have been founded to actively fight for women’s rights in Tunisia. These include the National Union for Tunisian Women, Union of Tunisian Workers ‘Women’s Commission’, The Nissa Group and Tunisian Association of Women Democrats.

In addition to the various organizations formed, two women have joined forces to encourage victims of abuse to stand up for themselves and to talk about their experiences. Amal Khleef and Amal Amrawy started an online forum called “Chaml,” which means, “coming together,” as a place for victims of domestic violence to speak up about their challenges.

The percentage of Tunisian women reported as victims of domestic violence has fortunately been reduced from 70 percent in 2016 to 47 percent in 2017 – a significant decline that should be celebrated. Although integrating policy change with social change in a fluctuating democracy may prove difficult, the results of efforts to improve women’s rights in Tunisia thus far can already be seen.

Rebekah Korn

Photo: Flickr