Tunisian Women Stand to Lose Their Status

Tunisian women holding posters and flags during a protest calling for the respect of women's and other fundamental rights in front of the headquarters of the National Constituent Assembly in Tunis on 9 August 2012. (Photo: AFP - Fethi Belaid)

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 into the works by the al-Nahda movement.

The Islamic party proposed a constitutional clause which will stop women from being considered as equal to men by law; 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 book Women: 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.

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