TUNISIA – August 13th is a national celebration for women in Tunisia, one that has garnered competing rallies this year. Traditionally a day for women’s rights supporters to celebrate the landmark statute in Tunisia’s constitution for women, this year supporters of Ennahda, the conservative Islamist party, also turned out.
In 1957 Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba passed the Code of Personal Status (CPS) which provided landmark rights for women. The CPS has provided Tunisian women a level of equality that is not matched elsewhere in the Arab world. The law has outlawed polygamy in the country and limited marriage to be between two consenting individuals, moving marriage outside the realm of parental enforcement. Women are considered neither “secondary nor complementary” citizens under the Code.
However, members of the conservative Ennahda party, the leading party of the coalition government, have recently made statements that draw their support of the CPS into question.
Some female members of the party support more conservative views of women’s rights that are governed by a stricter interpretation of Islam. One MP called for the new constitution to criminalize abortion. The Head of the Committee of Rights and Freedoms of the National Constituent Assembly stated that equality of men and women should not be considered in “absolute terms.”
On National Women’s Day, Ennahda supporters gathered to promote the party’s stance on women and its conservative agenda. Their rally also comes in the wake of protests against the Islamist movement. Rallies for women’s rights supporters, vastly outnumbering the Ennahda rally, also took place. Citizens came out to support the CPS and Tunisia’s stance towards women’s rights. There was not reported violence at either of the rallies.
Tunisia is in the process of creating a new constitution. The status of women in the new constitution is a main concern. However, the process has been marred by violence this year with the assassination of two MP’s. Opposition parties have demanded the coalition government step-down amid questions about their conservative agenda.
Elections are scheduled to be held on December 17 . The current Prime Minister, Ali Larayedh, has set a deadline of October 23 for a new constitution and electoral law.
– Callie D. Coleman
Sources: Al-Monitor, AP, Middle East Online, Tunisia Opposition Protests