The fight for women’s rights continues in Tunisia

Sunday 21/08/2016
Listening session at an ATFD-sponsored centre for women victims of violence, in Tunis.

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.”