The fight for women’s rights continues in Tunisia
Tunis - Tunisia celebrated National Women’s Day by marking the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Code of Personal Status, a series of laws that greatly improved the standing of women in post-independence Tunisia.
Tunisian civil society organisations are lobbying for a new law to defend women against violence. Samira Merai Friaa, Tunisian minister of Women, Family and Children Affairs, has said a comprehensive law fighting violence against women would be submitted to parliament.
“This law will be of a great importance as it will change mentality and behaviours,” Friaa said. “We want to eradicate the culture of violence. We must change this and that is why the law encompasses preventive, protective and penalising aspects.”
The draft law comes after an alarming study released in March by the Tunisian Centre for Research, Studies, Documentation and Information on Women (Credif). The study said 53.5% of Tunisian women were subject to a form of violence in the public space from 2011-15 and 47.6% were subject to domestic violence.
The measure is based on Article 46 of the Tunisian constitution, which calls for guaranteeing gender equality and protection of women’s rights. The draft law would mandate one-year prison sentences for perpetrators of sexual harassment.
Credif Director Dalenda Larguech said the bill was adopted by the Council of Ministers in July and would be submitted for a parliamentary vote soon.
“Violence is widespread in both private and public space,” Larguech said. “In the public space, the situation is alarming as we hear of cases of violence every day. Women are subject to forms of violence everywhere. The penal code cannot respond to all these cases.”
She added: “Because they are women, they are paid less. Because they are women, they are harassed on public transportation. Because they are women, their husbands beat them.”
Larguech said the proposed law would sensitise people to the extent of violence against women. “The law defines the forms of violence specific to women,” she said. “Socially, women are still inferior to men. They are treated in an unfair way and not in a human way.”
Monia Ben Jemia, president of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD), one of the leading women’s rights groups in the country, said she strongly supports passage of the legislation.
“This law encompasses physical, emotional, domestic, sexual and economic violence,” she said. “It also defines women to include underage girls. It protects women who are subject to violence and educates them on their rights.”
Ben Jemia argued that the draft law concerns all government bodies, not just those directly addressing women’s issues.
“All ministries are involved in the proposal,” she said. “The Education Ministry should include material in their curricula to educate the young generation on violence. The ministries of Health and Justice should equally tackle the issue by partaking in training judges, police and doctors to have a better understanding of the cases of violence against women.”
While she praised the achievements that women have made, she also called for safeguarding their rights and striving for accomplishments. She said the Tunisian government should support and encourage the rights of women and not limit the issue to National Women’s Day, August 13th.
“The Code of Personal Status was threatened after the revolution as some extremists tried to change some of its key principles, such as polygamy,” Ben Jemia said. “We want to improve the status and rights of women further. The husband still remains the head of the family. The father is the guardian of the children and inheritance is still not equal. This needs to change.”