Thousands of men and women protested in Tunisia’s capital on August 13th in response to constitutional changes proposed by the Islamist-led government and seen as a threat to women’s rights and advancements won over fifty years ago.
With signs bearing slogans such as “”Rise up women for your rights to be enshrined in the constitution” and “Ghannouchi clear off, Tunisian women are strong” (referring to the majority party’s leader, Ennahda member Rachid Ghannouchi), the mostly female crowd of protesters called for a revision of language included in the draft constitution referring to women as “complementary to men.”
Nearly 6,000 people participated in the rally on Monday evening in a new wave of revolution. Together, they called for women’s equal rights to be enshrined in the language of the new constitution set to be adopted in 2013 and consistent with gains made by the 1956 Code of Personal Status. The Code of Personal Status deemed men and women equal, banned polygamy and introduced civil divorce and marriage. The new draft constitution threatens these gains, using phrasing that appears to undermine equal status and rights and challenges Tunisia’s progressive track record in the region.
Upon coming to power, Ennahda party representatives promised they would not impose restrictions on women’s freedoms and would honor Tunisia’s tradition and legacy as one of the most liberal nations in the region with regard to women’s advancement and freedom. Chair of the assembly’s human rights and public freedoms panel and member of the Ennahda party Farida al-Obeidi continued to assure this in the wake of controversy, promising the wording of the draft constitution did not indicate a backwards step for Tunisian women.
Meanwhile, the head of the drafting committee has announced that Tunisia’s new constitution will not be adopted until April 2013, six months later than planned. Opposition MPs fear that further delays and prolonging of the period of transition will only breed more chaos and put off much needed action in addressing crisis areas, such as the state of the economy.
The six committees responsible for the six different chapters of the constitution have to submit each article individually for approval by MPs, who can make further amendments.
Only then can the text be adopted by parliament, where it requires a two-thirds majority. Failing this, the draft constitution would be put to a referendum.
Image from Flickr user Felix Tusa under a Creative Commons license.