Tunisian laws protect women’s equality more than the laws of most other countries of the Arab world. The law on personal status, promulgated in 1956 by then-President Habib Bourguiba, greatly reduced gender inequality in many facets of family life, including marriage and divorce. However, Tunisian law continues to discriminate against women in inheritance, in child custody, and in other aspects of the life. On April 23, 2014, the Tunisian government officially lifted key reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), an important step toward realizing gender equality. However, Tunisia maintained a general declaration stating that the country “shall not take any organizational or legislative decision in conformity with the requirements of this Convention where such a decision would conflict with the provisions of Chapter I of the Tunisian Constitution.” Chapter I of the constitution states that the religion of the country is Islam.
Tunisia is one of only four members of the African Union not to have signed the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, which has stronger protection for women's rights on some issues than does CEDAW.
Tunisia’s new Constitution, adopted on January 27, strongly protects women’s rights, such as in article 46, which provides that “The state commits to protect women’s established rights and works to strengthen and develop those rights,” and guarantees “equality of opportunities between women and men to have access to all levels of responsibility and in all domains.” Tunisia is now one of the few countries in the Middle East and North Africa region with a constitutional obligation to work toward gender parity in elected assemblies. In addition, the constitution contains a new obligation for the state to take all necessary measures in order to eradicate violence against women.
Human Rights Watch urges candidates and parties to include as part of their platform a commitment that they will:
- Amend the personal status code to ensure equality in all aspects of family and private life.
- Ensure Tunisia quickly signs and ratifies the Maputo Protocol.
- Devise a comprehensive strategy for the implementation of the provision of the new constitution that the state will take all necessary measures in order to eradicate violence against women.