Tunisian women march for equal rights
Published Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Thousands of Tunisians demonstrated in the capital late Monday for women’s rights in the biggest show of force by the opposition since April as the Islamist-led government faces growing dissent.
Two demonstrations, one authorized and the other not, were held to support the withdrawal of a planned article in the constitution backed by the Islamists that refers to “complementarity” and not equality of the sexes.
Thousands of people assembled opposite the parliament building in Tunis after the breaking of the Ramadan fast, while several hundred defied a ban to gather on the main city center Habib Bourguiba Avenue.
Another demonstration was attended by about 1,000 people in Sfax, 260 kilometers south of the capital.
The gatherings in Tunis were the biggest by the opposition movement since a banned march was violently broken up on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in April.
The demonstrators, mobilized by feminist groups, human rights and opposition organizations, were celebrating Monday the anniversary of the promulgation of the Personal Status Law (CSP) in 1956 under Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourguiba.
Tunisian women are rising up against the 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 nearly six decades ago.
The National Constituent Assembly, elected after the downfall last year of dictator 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 CSP. 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.”
Tunisian Women Stand to Lose Their Status
By: Nizar Maqni
Published Monday, August 13, 2012
As Tunisia celebrates the 56th anniversary of its Personal Status Law today, August 13, a new spanner was thrown in the works by the al-Nahda movement.
The Islamic party proposed a constitutional clause which will stop women from being considered in law as equal to men, instead it says that they “complement” the role of men within the family.
It started a few weeks ago when an al-Nahda MP, who is also a rapporteur for the new constitution, spoke about the role of women in the constitution. “Let us agree (before anything else), that women are human beings,” he said.
The statement was based on several theoretical principles that permeate the writings of Rashed Ghannoushi, who was crowned as head of the movement a few weeks ago. He had presented his theories in his bookWomen: Between the Quran and Muslim Reality.
In the book, the mentor of the ruling troika said that “a woman’s unique features revolve around her sexual functions.” Every “feature that a woman has is related to her sexual function and are a result of this function.”
This function “is a fundamental issue for women but secondary for men,” he wrote, concluding that “the sexual function is the essence of the female.”
This regressive theory was plainly evident in al-Nahda’s proposal for Chapter 28 of the constitution regarding women’s rights. It managed to pass it in the Rights and Freedoms Committee with 12 votes to 8.
“The state guarantees women’s rights and upholds their gains as a true partner of men; and their roles are complemented inside the family. The state guarantees equal opportunities for men and women in their various responsibilities and the elimination of all forms of violence against [women],” the chapter clearly indicates.
The opposition presented a proposal which states that “the state guarantees women’s rights in all field and cannot enact laws that would detract from them in any way.”
But the bill was rejected by the Islamic group who then replaced it with their own text. In spite of the strong opposition, they forced their version of the law in to be voted on by the general meeting of the constituent assembly.
Al-Nahda’s suggestion was vetoed throughout the Tunisian political spectrum, especially by civil society. This time, the “civil society veto” was a collective effort.
In a joint statement, seven women’s and human rights organizations insisted on adherence to the principle of equality between men and women. They categorically rejected the suggestion of the Rights and Freedoms committee of the constituent assembly that claimed women merely complement the role of men inside the family.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.