Conflict & Justice

Protesters in Tunisia say draft constitution erodes women's rights


Tunisian women shout slogans and hold posters reading, 'don't touch my rights' and 'woman is the future of man' during a protest calling for the respect of women's rights and other fundemental rights on August 13, 2012 in Tunis.



Women and allies have taken to the streets in Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, protesting in the capital of Tunis and neighboring Sidi Bouzid against an initiative by the new ruling party that would significantly impact women's rights in the country. 

The Ennahda Movement, a moderate-conservative Islamist party that won majority votes in the elections for a constituent assembly after last year's revolution, were part of the group tasked with drafting a new constitution. They are attempting to change a line that says women are "complementary to men within the family," as opposed to equal.

Thousands marched through Tunis, according to the Chicago Tribune, holding banners that read, "Rise up women for your rights to be enshrined in the constitution" and "Ghannouchi clear off, Tunisian women are strong." (Rachid Ghannouchi is Ennahda's leader.) They chanted and waved flags throughout the evening. 

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RT reports that the protests fall on the anniversary of the passage of a 1956 law that guaranteed equal rights for men and women. The Personal Status Code also "abolished polygamy and the practice of repudiation, under which husbands could divorce simply by saying so three times. [And] it instituted judicial divorce and required mutual consent of both parties for a marriage."

Ennahda and the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) should be focusing more on social issues, say opponents to the new draft of the constitution, and many women see these changes as "rolling back their rights.”

Reuters interviewed 52-year-old Fouzia Belgaid, who said last year's revolt should not have led to such debate in Tunisian society.

"Normally, more important issues ought to be tackled like unemployment, regional development," she said. "Ennahda seems bent on making steps backwards but we are here to say that Tunisian women will not accept that."

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"I fear for the future of my daughters who may grow up in a totally different Tunisia," she said.

As the protests continued, nearly 8,000 people have signed an online petiton to the NCA, saying "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," according to Kaouther Larbi, of Middle East Online.

For more of GlobalPost's coverage of women's rights in North Africa and the Middle East, check out our Special Report "The Voice and The Veil: Egypt's Revolutionary Women."