Demos in Tunisia for women's rights

2012-08-14 10:15
Tunisian women shout slogans during a protest calling for the respect of women's rights and other fundamental rights in Tunis. (AFP)

Tunisian women shout slogans during a protest calling for the respect of women's rights and other fundamental rights in Tunis. (AFP)

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Tunis - 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 authorised 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 centre Habib Bourguiba Avenue.

Another demonstration was attended by about 1,000 people in Sfax, 260km 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, mobilised by feminist groups, human rights and opposition organisations, were celebrating on Monday the anniversary of the promulgation of the Personal Status Code (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.

proposed article

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."

Read more on:    tunisia  |  north africa
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