Tunisia's law against violence against women, the fruit of the Arab spring
by Luca Galantini

The law condemns all forms of violence and discrimination even in the home. Nearly 50% of Tunisian women are victims of domestic violence. There is no punishment for rapists. Equal rights at work. Together with Morocco, Tunisia wants to advance in the development of civil rights and freedoms, safeguarding its Islamic identity.


Milan (AsiaNews) - In many countries the "Arab Spring" has unfortunately left behind traumas and illusions that have dissolved the great hopes of change in the name of the rights of freedom and democracy invoked by civil societies.

The democratic transition in the states belonging to the diverse Muslim world that stretches between North Africa and the Middle East appears today, at a distance of more than five years since the start of the first political uprisings in Arab societies, still hindered by insurmountable walls.

This key reading - which dominates mass media and chancelleries in the international political world - is in fact overly pessimistic because it ignores some Arab countries which instead vindicate themselves in their effort to promote and protect human rights in the Muslim world.

This is the case in Morocco and Tunisia, two states that have been able to demonstrate with determination the continuing course of development of civil rights and civil liberties according to the secular guidelines of the main treaties and international conventions, while maintaining the centrality of the their own Islamic religious identity.

In the Kingdom of Morocco, in recent months, the Ulema High Commission for Religious Affairs acknowledged the illegality of the death penalty for apostasy, admitting in fact the full right of Moroccan citizens to convert to another religious faith different from Islam without enduring persecution: a step forward of tremendous importance for the protection of religious freedom as a sign of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Parliament has recently passed the law on the protection of women from all forms of violence and discrimination in Tunisia in the name of full equality of the sexes: a law that has been historically defined by international observers because, for the first time Tunisian political parties, of both secular and Islamic religious inspiration, are demonstrating that they want to eradicate legislation that is a real social plague, namely the discrimination of women in the home, public places, and workplaces.

The official figures provided by both the state and the authoritative non-governmental organizations speak clearly and are impressive: according to data published by the government through the Office National Family Planning Bureau, almost 50% of Tunisian women claim to have experienced forms of domestic violence in the family.

An articulated study of the Credif Research and Documentation Center on women's status in civil society confirms that over 40% of Tunisian women have reported physical violence in both the family and the public sphere, but the most shocking thing is that more than 70% of women recognize that they have experienced forms of harassment or sexual abuse.

Human Rights Watch, an international NGO working on the human rights front, acknowledged, through the words of the head of their Tunisian office, Amina Guellali, that with this law the state has finally introduced the legal instruments needed to overcome the hateful practice of violence against women and to embark on a path to full equality of the sexes, in line with the UN Convention on the Protection of Women's Rights.

The new law has had to go a long way to come, more than a year before being approved, and it is inspired by Art.46 of the new Constitution of 2014, which expressly recognizes for the first time the commitment of the State to promote and guarantee the full Gender equality and the dignity of women.

With 43 articles, the law passed aims to pursue all the most disparate forms of discrimination and violence against women: condemnation of husbands and members of the family for violence committed within the home is foreseen as well as the protection of the family through the provision of restraint orders (the husband or family can be removed from home).

It is then recognized that the woman has the right to sue for sexual harassment in a public place, one of the most humiliating situations that women are still subjected to today.

In the world of work the punishment for the employer who assumes a woman with a lower pay than the male worker with the same rank and duty has finally been introduced: consider that wage discrimination is unfortunately still common practice today in many Arab countries and not just Arab.

But perhaps the most encouraging rule of law for the protection of the dignity of the human person is one that abrogates an article of the Tunisian criminal code that is particularly hateful: 227 bis, according to which the rapist of a girl under fifteen years could avoid being sentenced for the crime committed when he married the minor who had been raped. Such a cruel and discriminatory article, which in recent years had become the symbol of the struggle for civil rights in Tunisian society.

Certainly, the new law 60 does not completely solve the problem of women's discrimination - for example, the rules of inheritance stipulate that the woman can only inherit half of whatever her brother inherits – have not been eliminated, but it is certainly a concrete sign of the road that Arab-Islamic political society in Tunisia intends to take for the protection of the rights of the person.

It is important to emphasize that the first blossoms of the so-called Arab Spring were seen in Tunisia, in 2011, through the so-called "Jasmine Revolution": a movement of people born from the base of civil society, who had become aware of the need to recover their dignity against the corruption and the overthrow of the political caste of Ben Ali's regime.

As the l'Osservatore Romano pointed out, this law is therefore a historic step for the dignity of women: not least because Tunisia, like other countries like Morocco, has the opportunity to prove to be a reference model in the Islamic world for democracy and civil rights, after the traumatic illusions of the Arab Spring.

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