How did Tunisian women participate in the revolution ?
Throughout the month of protests in Tunisia we saw a huge presence of women
from all walks of life. It was not only those who had lost children, husbands,
or other relatives killed during the uprising. We have seen that the torch of
calls for democracy and equality has been passed down from our generation to
the next. This is just as reassuring as it is moving. This generation has
tremendous energy and creativity. They have shown it in the streets, as they
have through social networks and blogs.
We must also recognize the role that women have played for many years in
resistance to the dictatorship and repression. It is evident that women will
play a full role in the construction of a democratic Tunisia.
It is also the “Tunisian exception” that brought about this revolution:
Tunisia had the first constitution in the Arab world in the 19th century, the
first trade union, the first Arab and African human rights organization and a
Personal Status Code which, unfortunately, remains unique in the Arab world,
which abolished repudiation and polygamy, access to the contraceptive pill and
abortion, as well as to education.
With the recognition of Islamist political parties, is there a risk
you think the Personal Status Code risks being challenged?
No, the rights protected by the Personal Status Code of 1956 are
established. There is no going back. Now, we need to go beyond this and achieve
full legal equality.
Women are fighting to preserve a modern society in Tunisia. We want the
Personal Status Code to continue to evolve towards equality and freedom for
both sexes. We want women to have equal rights to inheritance. Today, as in the
sphere of education, women want equal participation in political life. This is
why women are on centre stage. They know that the future of Tunisia depends on
How can women’s rights be strengthened in Tunisia
First and foremost, we want to ensure that the new Tunisian democracy, which
we hope to see emerge from this uprising, guarantees the full rights of women
and gender equality. We must remain vigilent. We must remember that protecting
human rights and democracy means protecting of the rights of women. We must
recall the principle that there can be no genuine democracy without gender
We must ensure that there are women in all the new political bodies. We must
call for parity and, at the very least, quotas of women among those elected.
Political parties calling themselves democratic will not be able to do less
than the former RCD, the party of the ex-President, Ben Ali), which had
established quotas of 30% on electoral lists.
We must also call for the reform of laws that remain discriminatory,
starting with the provisions on inheritance.
We must support the work and struggle of women’s associations, like the
Association tunisienne des femmes démocrates (ATFD), the Association des femmes
tunisiennes pour la recherche et le développement (AFTURD) and the Collectif
Maghreb Egalité 1995, partners of FIDH, who resisted during the dictatorship,
and have always associated the three words: democracy, freedom and equality.
These women’s movements are extremely active in the creation of a democratic
Currently they are putting together a dossier of claims that would ensure
gender equality and the protection of women’s rights in a democratic
Are there risks that women will be excluded from the transitions in
Tunisia and Egypt ?
It is a real fear. There are already some worrying signs that women are
being pushed aside in the political transitions. It is deeply concerning that
women that there is not a single woman on the new Egyptian Constitutional
Committee. This is unacceptable.
We must remember history. In Algeria, for example, in the 1950s women
participated in the struggle for independence. However, after independence they
were largely excluded from political and public life. Today the Algerian Family
Code still discriminates against women, polygamy still exists, men are
considered “head of the family” etc.. Women have been forgotten in the “post
Political transition first... women’s rights later. We should remember that
nothing is guaranteed, in order to ensure that women are not excluded from
reconstruction, since women’s rights are never considered a political
“priority.” We should not forget that if women have protested and have
sacrificed themselves in the name of these revolutions, they will not allow
their rights to be forgotten and ignored during the transition.
FIDH will continue to work alongside its member organisations and partners
in Tunisia, Egypt and throughout the region so that memory of women’s
participation in the revoulations and uprisings is preserved and so that women
can obtain equal rights.