First Published: 2012-08-11


Cry of dismay: Tunisian women rights in danger


Tunisian women rise up against Ennahda-proposed article in new constitution seen by many as Islamist ploy to reverse principle of gender equality.


Middle East Online

By Kaouther Larbi – TUNIS

Unfinished revolution of Tunisian women

Tunisian women are rising up against a proposed article in the new constitution seen by many as an Islamist ploy to reverse the principle of gender equality that made Tunisia a beacon of modernity in the Arab world when it was introduced six decades ago.

The National Constituent Assembly, elected after the downfall last year of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, is currently drafting a new national charter.

The NCA parliamentary committee adopted last week a proposed article that activists say would compromise rights enshrined in the Personal Status Code (CSP) promulgated in 1956 under Tunisia's first president, Habib Bourguiba.

The article must still be ratified at a plenary session of the interim parliament.

The 1956 code was the first of its kind in the Arab world.

It abolished polygamy, under which Muslim men are allowed to have as many as four wives, and the practice of repudiation, under which husbands could divorce simply by saying so three times.

At the same time, it instituted not only judicial divorce but also civil marriage.

It is a system now deeply rooted in Tunisian society, where women are active in all sectors of society.

While none of these principles would be lost under the proposed article, activists fear that its language represents a step toward rolling back their rights.

At issue, concretely, is that women's place in society would be defined in terms of their relation to men.

The offending article stipulates that the state guarantees "the protection of women's rights... under the principle of complementarity to man within the family and as an associate of man in the development of the country."

A petition addressed to the NCA, and so far signed by more than 8,000 people on the Internet, says "the state is about to vote on an article in the constitution that limits the citizenship rights of women, under the principle of their complementarity to men and not their equality."

The petition stresses that women, who "are citizens just like men, should not be defined in terms of men."

Meherzia, a teacher, said that "'equality' becomes 'complementarity,' but in fact it is the whole legal framework for relations between men and women that changes."

Lawyer Sadok Belaid, at a debate on the CSP at Tunisia's Centre for Research on Women, said the "risks of regression are not just linked to women's rights; it is a challenge to one whole model of society."

The Human Rights League, feminist NGOs and the powerful General Workers' Union (UGTT) are planning a march in the capital on Monday evening to coincide with the anniversary of the Personal Status Code's promulgation.

The interior ministry has allowed the march to take place on Mohammed V Street in central Tunis, but not on the main road running though the capital, Habib Bourguiba Avenue.

In France, a group of NGOs and expatriates have also called for a gathering on Monday evening in Paris to "safeguard" the rights of Tunisian women.

The Islamist party Ennahda, which heads the ruling three-party coalition after winning the first post-revolution polls in October, has repeatedly stressed its commitment to the rights of women and to the CSP.

Ennahda's historic leader Rached Ghannouchi sought earlier this week to play down the controversy.

"Some MPs (in the NCA) have seen in this phrase some sort of retreat on fundamental principles like equality, on which there is a consensus between Ennahda and its main coalition partners," the Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol, both centre-left parties, he said.

But many remain fundamentally opposed to the complementarity clause.

"We are demanding the withdrawal of this article pure and simple, as it constitutes an assault on the gains made by women and on their humanity," Ahlem Belhaj, president of the Association of Women Democrats, said.

And some rights are still to be gained. For years, feminists have demanded equality of inheritance. As it stands now under sharia (Islamic law), a woman is entitled to just half of what her brother receives.

The protest is even more poignant, coming amid controversy over 28-year-old Habiba Ghribi, who became the first Tunisian women ever to win an Olympic medal when she took the silver this week in the 3,000-metre steeplechase.

Ghribi's wore typical running attire -- shorts and a top that left her midrift bare -- and the reaction from some quarters illustrates why Tunisian women are concerned.

"Tunisia does not need medals that come from women who are uncovered and naked. We should strip the nationality of she who has dishonoured Tunisia with her nudity and debauchery," said one comment on Facebook.

That brought a retort from MP Ibrahim Kassas, of the independent Al-Aridha party.

"The underpants of Habiba Ghribi have honoured us," Kassas joked during a radio debate with female Ennahda MP Farida Labidi on Tuesday. "What have (Ennahda MPs') underpants done for us?"


Iraq forces fight to tighten noose around Mosul

In Syria, Kurds restore ancient names to Arabised towns

UN call to extend Yemen truce falls on deaf ears

Turkey reports over 35,000 people in detention after coup attempt

In violation of constitution, Iraq parliament votes to ban alcohol

Turkey hits Kurdish group in Syria again

Kremlin aims to 'liberate' Syria with Assad in power

Egypt court upholds 20-year sentence for Morsi

Turkey PM warns EU: Turkey has alternatives!

Battles rage in Yemen despite three-day truce

For second day, Iraq forces clash with ISIS in Kirkuk

New report accuses Syria of chemical attack in Qmenas village

Islamic Jihad stages show of force in Gaza

UN says 'crimes' in Aleppo are 'of historic proportions'

IS sniper kills Iraqi journalist in Kirkuk

US official says coalition should target IS in Raqa after Mosul

Moscow extends Aleppo ceasefire

Italy PM says officials should have voted against UNESCO Jerusalem resolution

Syrian ‘Toy Smuggler’ accused of fraud

UN: IS may use civilians as human shields in Mosul

Armed men attack refugee boat off Libya

US says will work with Turkey to deal IS 'lasting defeat'

Moscow ‘highly concerned’ at jihadists’ refusal to leave Aleppo

Four Palestinians arrested by their security forces for settlement visit

Mauritania president says no change to two-term limit

UN delays Aleppo evacuations due to lack of security assurances

Oman denies reports of arms smuggling to Yemen

Israel looking to buy three more German submarines

83 migrants rescued off Cyprus

Under pressure in Mosul, IS fighters attack Kirkuk

Air strikes hit Yemen rebels despite ceasefire

US officials: Iran boosting arms sales to Huthis via Oman

Iraq forces make gains against IS near Mosul

Arab coalition accuses Yemen rebels of breaching truce

Italian PM blocks EU sanctions threat against Russia over Aleppo

Pentagon chief in Turkey for talks on tensions with Iraq

Israeli occupation troops kill Palestinian teenager

Iraqis flee IS-held Mosul for war-torn Syria

Five years after his death, Kadhafi's 'Green Book' is ridiculed in Libya

Iraq issues warrant for former governor of Mosul

EU leaders threaten sanctions against Assad allies

Syria army urges residents to evacuate Aleppo during ceasefire

British warships shadow Syria-bound Russian naval force

Turkey unexpectedly keeps interest rate steady

British PM urges united EU response to Russia over Syria 'atrocities'