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Demonstrations in Tunisia: Proposed change of constitution threatens equal rights

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Both men and women joined in the demonstrations for gender equality. This woman is holding a sign saying "Man without woman = 0 Man=Woman". Photo: Felix Husa.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Tunis yesterday, to celebrate the National Day of Tunisian Women by protesting a proposed change in the country’s constitution. According to the new draft, women’s rights of citizenship should no longer be based on equality. Instead it would be seen as “complementarity to man within the family and as an associate of man in the development of the country”.

Tunisia’s Minister of Interior, Ali Larayedh, had a few days earlier told the Tunisian radio program Mosaique FM that no marches or demonstrations would be allowed on August 13th. Later though this was changed to only apply to Tunis’s central avenue, Habib Bourguiba.

Fear first step to diminish women’s rights

The National Day of Tunisian Woman is celebrated on the anniversary of the Tunisian Personal Status Code that came into force in 1956. It was the first of its kind in the Arab world, abolished polygami and instituted both judicial divorce and civil marriage.

Although the proposed new article in the constitution wouldn’t change any of these principles, many women and activists fear that it’s a first step on the road to diminishing women’s rights in Tunisia, reports The Muslim News.

Protests on the streets

An Internet petition stressing that women, who “are citizens just like men, should not be defined in terms of men” has so far been signed by over 8 000 people. And in two big demonstrations in the capital Tunis yesterday evening (one of them defying the ban on gathering at Habib Bourguiba), thousands of Tunisians requested a withdrawal of the proposed article. The new writing has already been adopted by the parliamentary committee of Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly (NCA), but it still needs to be ratified at a plenary session of the interim parliament.

The National Constituent Assembly was elected last year after the downfall of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and it’s currently working on a new constitution for Tunisia.

Malin Ekerstedt

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