On January 26, 2014, the national assembly of Tunisia passed a new constitution that created a full democracy in the country. The constitution was the first in the Arab world to provide full equality for men and women.
Article 20 guarantees male and female citizens equal rights and equal treatment before the law. Article 45 of the constitution requires the state to protect women against violence and guarantee equal presentation of men and women in elected institutions.
Ms. Lobna Jeribi, a member of the Ettakattol party, described the article as “a revolution in itself. It’s a big, historic step, not only for Tunisian women”.
But has this new constitution truly given women their rights? Will women be seen equal by the law after the passing of this constitution?
In September 2012, Meriem Ben Mohamed was out with her fiancé in Tunis, the capital city of Tunisia. Two policemen took turns raping her in a police car, while her fiancé was forced by a third policeman to hand over cash money.
On March 31st, the three policemen were convicted in a Tunis courtroom. The two men who raped her were given seven years in prison, while the third policeman was convicted of extortion and was given a two-year sentence.
However, Ben Mohamed’s road to justice was long and full of obstacles. When she first accused the policemen of sexual assault, the Tunisian security services charged her with “public indecency”. After public outcry, the president of Tunisia, Mocef Marzouki, gave her an official apology.
The policemen denied the charges of rape and accused Ben Mohamed of seducing them on that night. During the trial, medical evidence was presented, which demonstrated that Ben Mohamed was sexually active before the policemen raped her.
In Arab countries, sexual activity before marriage is taboo. Instead of focusing the attention upon the perpetrators, much criticism during the trial was launched towards Ben Mohamed herself, in a standard case of victim blaming.
Ben Mohamed currently lives in France and has described her ordeal in a published book called “Guilty of Being Raped”. When she walked out of the courtroom, Ben Mohamed shouted, “when I demand justice, they insult me”.
In Tunisia, the maximum jail term for rape is 25 years. Because the policemen were only given seven years in prison, Ben Mohamed’s legal team will appeal for a longer sentence.
Ben Mohamed’s case demonstrates the fierce opposition Tunisian women face in day-to-day life. Despite the newly adopted Tunisian constitution that guarantees women protection against violence and equal rights before the law, there is still a long road before women can walk the streets of Tunis, unafraid.
– Sarah Yan