Law banning violence against women is \'dream come true,\' minister says

August 20, 2017
New steps. Tunisian Minister of Women, Family and Children Naziha Labidi. (Office of the Tunisian minister)

Tunis - More than 60 years after the enact­ment of the Code of Personal Status, Tunisia is pressing ahead with the consoli­dation of women’s status and rights despite challenges posed by conservative forces in the country.
“August 13 is an important date in the history of Tunisia and an oc­casion to celebrate the enactment of the Code of Personal Status, which came to build balanced re­lations within the family, the basic unit of society,” Tunisian Minister of Women, Family and Children Naziha Labidi said in an interview.
“Over the years, the Code of Per­sonal Status has developed in line with social changes and it remains important to remind the younger generations of the major achieve­ments in the fields of family legis­lation and women’s rights.”
Tunisians on August 13 marked the 61st anniversary of the Code of Personal Status, 15 days after the approval of a landmark law on violence against women. The law abolished Article 227 (a) of the Tu­nisian Criminal Code that allowed rapists to escape punishment if they married their victims.
The new law defines violence against women as “any physi­cal, moral, sexual or economic aggression against women based on discrimination between the two sexes and resulting in damage or physical, sexual, psychologi­cal or economic suffering to the woman.” It includes all the key elements of the definition of do­mestic violence recommended in the UN “Handbook for Legislation on Violence against Women.”
“With the help of civil society, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Public Health, a dream has come true,” Labidi said.
“On July 26, the law was unani­mously approved by the different blocs at parliament. In Tunisia, we can have our political differences but eventually, we all give prior­ity to the higher interests of the country.”
Tunisian women face significant rates of violence, with nearly 50% of women being a victim at some point in their lives.
“The situation of women in our country could have been worse in the absence of legislation,” Labidi said.
“All laws in Tunisia are binding,” the minister added, detailing pre­ventive measures, requirements, criminal provisions and penalties included in the law.
Tunisia has five shelters for vic­tims of violence distributed across different regions of the country, Labidi said.
“We have recently inaugurated a new centre for counselling in the city of Mahdia and we are plan­ning on inaugurating more centres and shelters across the country,” she said.
“The new law does not only protect women but also ensures protection for all family members, including children, whether boys or girls. Today, no one can escape punishment.”
Tunisia is the first Arab country to adopt the comprehensive law on violence. Similar laws exist in only three countries in Europe and 15 countries in Latin America.
The law has been hailed by international rights groups as a landmark step that consolidates Tunisia’s pioneering model in women’s rights. However, Human Rights Watch called for interna­tional aid to assist with the effec­tive implementation of the law, which is to go into force in 2018.
In the last five years, Tuni­sia’s economic growth rate has slumped to 1%, data from the National Institute of Statistics showed. Recent figures from the Ministry of Finance indicate that the country’s economic growth is expected to reach 2.5% this year, compared with 0.8% in 2015.
Experts agree that Tunisia needs all the help it can get as it presses ahead with a democratic transi­tion and broad reforms that have proven successful over the years.
The adoption of the law on vio­lence had its critics in Tunisia and the Arab world, with conserva­tives and some Islamist groups claiming that the country was creating a façade to conceal the real problems and distract people from main issues.
“Tunisia remains honest in dealing with all issues, including the economy, politics and others,” Labidi said.
“As the tradition has been in our country, we are brave enough to call problems by their names and work together to solve them.”