Tunisian Women take to the Streets in the Hopes of Maintaining Gender-Equality


Tunisian Women take to the Streets in the Hopes of Maintaining Gender-Equality

TUNIS – Over 1000 women took to the streets of Tunis last Saturday in order to ensure that the gender-equality rights that they have enjoyed for so long are maintained. Tunisia will hold its first election since the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on October 23rd of this year, however, with women in Lebanon and Egypt being pushed out of new constitutions, it is only natural that those in Tunisia are fearful of being sidelined under the new government.
The protest marked the 55th anniversary of The Personal Status Code (CPS), a significant equal rights bill that was passed under the leadership of Tunisia’s first president Habib Bourguiba. The bill – that enforced equal pay for women, provided them with equal rights in courts of law and banned polygamy – was seen as groundbreaking during its implementation in 1956. However, if Tunisia suffers from a rise in post-revolution religious conservatism, women in the country may see restrictions imposed on these rights. Emna Ben Jemaa, a Tunisian lecturer and journalist explained that “for Tunisian women, independence is not something that came with the revolution, it has been there for a long time” but gender equality in the country is “facing the threat of a loss in the gains made over the past decades,” said to Ahlem Belhaj  head of the Tunisian association of Democratic Women.

Political Islamist group, Ennahda, who were unable to exist under the rule of Ben Ali, have gained a significant amount support in recent months. However, representatives from the group have explained that women have nothing to fear, they “along with men, were victims of injustice under the Ben Ali regime, and it is time for them participate in governing the country,”  explained Noureddine Bhiri, a senior official of the party.

Human Rights Watch issued a questionnaire on Tuesday to all those parties and individuals who will be running in the October elections. The questionnaire, that aims to find out where these parties stand in regards to human rights,  urges all those taking part to “guarantee gender equality as a matter of law, eliminate criminal penalties for nonviolent speech, strengthen judicial independence, and revise the anti-terrorism law to ensure it does not criminalize speech offenses or trample the right to a fair trial.”
“The stakes for human rights are enormous in the election of an assembly that will draft a new constitution and probably adopt critical laws,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.  This questionnaire will prove vital in providing women with the most accurate information about where the electoral candidates stand with regards to gender equality, and will therefore allow them to make an informed and empowered decision in the upcoming elections.

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