Tunisian women protest over possible erosion of their rights
On Monday Tunisian women ‘celebrated’ National Women’s Day with a mass demonstration in Tunis in a bid to ensure their rights continue to be enshrined in the country’s constitution.
Thousands of Tunisians, mostly women, gathered in the capital to protest against the draft constitution, which is currently being drawn up by the Islamist government.
Specifically, the protestors were objecting to the wording of Article 27, which supposedly refers to women as ‘complementary’ to men.
In 1956 a law was passed in Tunisia granting women equal rights to men. The Personal Status Code banned polygamy, decreed that consent from both a man and woman was required for a civil marriage or divorce to proceed and that this could only happen through the courts, and introduced equal rights for both sexes in schools and at work.
Today, Tunisia is seen as one of the most progressive of the Arab states with women working in nearly every sector of society, including politics, and making up nearly 60% of the students in Tunisian universities.
Some believe that the wording of the draft constitution represents the start of the government’s plans to erode women’s rights.
Ahlam Belhadj, who chairs the Tunisian Democratic Women Association, said:
“Major retreats usually begin with one step. If we stay silent today, we will open the door to everything else and end up surprised by even more serious decisions.”
Others believe the objection to Article 27 has arisen as a direct result of mistranslation.
France 24 published the following translation: “The state guarantees to protect women’s rights, as they stand, under the principle of man’s complement within the family and man’s partner in developing the country”.
The government has denied that the wording of Article 27, which has yet to be ratified, represents a regressive step for Tunisian women.
Farida al-Obeidi, chair of the government’s human rights and public freedoms panel, said the draft stipulated “sharing of roles and does not mean that women are worth less than men”.