In a country where the President is active in the fight against gender inequality, one can certainly expect some progress and Tunisia is a great example of that as a 44-year ban preventing Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims has been lifted.
Tunisia’s President, Beji Caid Essebsi, has been campaigning for gender equality ever since he took office in December 2014. As part of the fight, he pushed for the ban to be lifted arguing that it contravened Tunisia’s 2014 constitution which was created following the Arab Spring protests at the turn of the decade.
In his arguments the President said;
“The state is obliged to achieve full equality between women and men and to ensure equal opportunities for all responsibilities,”
On Tunisia’s National Women’s Day which held in August the President announced gender equality proposals that included scrapping the ban and when the ban was indeed lifted a presidential spokeswoman congratulated women in the country for the “enshrinement of the right to the freedom to choose one’s spouse.”
The ban has been in place since it was instituted in 1973 and it forced non-Muslim men who wanted to marry a Tunisian woman to convert to Islam and show proof which was often a certificate of conversion.
As great as the lifting of the ban on Muslim women is, it is not the only move that the President has made on his quest for gender equality. In July, Tunisia passed tougher laws on domestic and sexual violence as well as sexual harassment in public spaces. Those new laws also closed a controversial loophole which granted rapists a reprieve if they married their victims.
Tunisia is slowly becoming a progressive model for women’s rights in North Africa and the Middle East. Women currently make up a sizable percentage of the workforce in public and private sectors and account for 75 out of 217 members of parliament.
There are still a lot of battles left for President Essebsi to fight on the front of gender equality. For instance, Tunisia’s historical inheritance laws have guaranteed since independence that men receive double of a female sibling’s share of an inheritance.
A proposal that has set the ball in motion to scrap the inheritance system is already facing stiff criticism from Tunisian clerics and members of parliament.