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Tunisian schizophrenia over women

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It is a burning question within Tunisian society and abroad, whether Tunisia will regress on respect for women’s rights or not.

Kacem Jlidi
1 October 2012

Tunisia has long been known for its advanced stand regarding women’s rights, thanks to the Personal Status Code, a series of Tunisian progressive laws aimed at instituting equality between women and men in a number of areas.  However since the moderate Islamic party Ennahda topped the election results this time last year, the burning question within Tunisian society and abroad is whether Tunisia will regress in this regard or not.   

The Rights and Liberties Committee within the elected National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) has drafted a controversial article that features women as complementary to men and not equal:

‘The state guarantees the protection of women and supports their position, considering them as men’s partners in building the nation, and their role within the family. The state guarantees equal opportunity between men and women to assume different responsibilities. The state guarantees the elimination of all forms of violence against women.’

Thankfully, the NCA bowed to pressure from members of civil society and women’s rights activists and inserted gender sensitive terms ensuring equality instead of complementarity in the future Constitution.

On the 56th anniversary of the promulgation of the Personal Status Code, women took to the Mohamed V avenue near downtown Tunis to remind lawmakers that their rights are not up for negotiation. Yet, in the midst of all this, a Tunisian young woman is raped by three policemen in Tunis. It is alleged that the young lady was with her fiancé in their car one late night earlier this month when a police patrol blackmailed the guy to let them two of them rape the young girl, while a third took her fiancé to a nearby ATM in an attempt to extort money from him. Of course this caused a huge outcry against the police. A YouTube video named ‘they raped me and you’re still silent’ is part of the campaign to restore the rights of this young lady, supported by a flash mob, public statements and widespread debate, despite the taboos involved.

Bochra Bel Haj Hmida, the victim’s lawyer explained today, however that two procedures - a rape case and a molestation case would be pursued in parallel: ‘My client is the plaintiff for the first rape. But during the hearings of the parties, the judge considered that another crime had been committed, and sent the young woman and her fiancé before another judge for molestation’, explains Bel Haj Hmida to Le Courrier de l’Atlas.  The policemen have alleged that they had found the couple in an, ‘immoral position’ in the car – a claim later repeated in a statement by Tunisia’s Ministry of Interior.

It is predicted that the young lady’s hearing on October 2 will cause much more agitation throughout Tunisia. The situation challenges the supposedly independent judicial court system in several ways, at one and the same time to protect the rights of this young lady, verify the molestation accusations, and reform a police institution that remains largely on track with its old and inhumane practices.

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