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Maia Blume – Policymic – Thursday, 18 July 2013 (originally published 16 Jul)

Women rally aournd a flag

Image: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

For the last fifty years, the rights of Tunisian women have been guaranteed by law, thanks to Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, in 1956. Not only were women given the right to vote and divorce, but abortion was also legalized and polygamy outlawed. Now, these very rights have been called into question as the country continues to move through its democratic transition at a rather slow pace under the leadership of moderate-Islamist party Ennahda. While indications are that after much back and forth and many protests, the legal status of women will remain in tact, but the mood on the ground has definitely shifted.

The third draft of Tunisia’s constitution is nearing completion, and an article aimed specifically at protecting the status of women has been included in the text. Furthermore, it seems that the Code of Personal Status (the legal document that has protected the rights of women since 1956) will not disappear. This is a huge win for Tunisian women.

Just one year ago, observers were not so sure that women would retain their freedom.  And since the revolution, Tunisian women have refused to stay silent, regularly taking to the streets so their voices could be heard and demanding that the constitution include language guaranteeing their status and freedom. But as Ennahda went around the country – and the world – speaking about the future it envisioned for Tunisia, it became increasingly unclear what the party leadership really thought about the country’s progressive laws. In each speech they made, observers would see a different vision for the future of Tunisia and different ideas about where women stood in society. With the final draft of the constitution nearly complete, it is becoming clear that Tunisia’s outspoken women have been heard, and they will retain their rights . . .

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