TUNIS — On July 26, 2017, Tunisian lawmakers effectively said “no more” to violence against women. In a major step forward for women’s rights, a new Tunisian law was enacted to outlaw violence against women, a noteworthy cause for celebration in this North African country.
In regards to women’s rights, Tunisia has long been considered one of the most progressive nations in the Arab world. Among the Arab states, Tunisian women were among the first to vote. Additionally, according to Tunisia’s code of personal status, divorce has been legal and polygamy outlawed since 1956.
However, violence against women persists. The Ministry of Women, Family and Childhood found that 60 percent of Tunisian women were victims of domestic violence in 2016, a major issue that will be addressed by this law.
No previous Tunisian law has existed to directly address domestic violence. Women’s rights organizations recognized the need for a domestic violence law decades ago and have been lobbying for one since. It was only six months prior to July 26 that parliamentary representatives began writing the Law on Eliminating Violence Against Women.
The new Tunisian law is broad in nature, encompassing physical violence, psychological abuse and economic discrimination. This is along the lines of the United Nations Handbook for Legislation for Violence Against Women, which defines violence against women similarly.
With the new law in full effectfrom next year, domestic violence will be easier to prosecute and sexual harassment in the public sphere will become a punishable offense. Workplace and wage discrimination will also be punishable with a fine. The law calls for a shift in the way law enforcement and judges handle violence against women. With the implementation of the new law, violence against women will become less of a “family matter” and more of an issue addressed by society as a whole.
The bill also abolishes a controversial loophole in Tunisian law that allows rapists to avoid prosecution by marrying their victims. On the significance of this law, Monia Ben Jemia, president of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, notes that it “takes care of the preventative side of violence against women in general, not only the reform of the criminal side.”
Those that cheered after parliament’s approval of the bill recognized the significance of what was just signed into law. Despite Tunisia’s reputation as a relatively progressive country, many Tunisian women experience domestic and physical abuse every day. Addressing this issue provides stability to a state that often suffers from tension between liberals and religious conservatives. Offering women equal economic opportunity and safety from violence is one way to promote political stability where it may lack.
One concern now regarding the new Tunisian law is its implementation. The Human Rights Watch notes that the Tunisian government must establish institutions that effectively implement and enforce this law. For now, however, the celebration of this victory can continue and for good reason.
– Jennifer Faulkner