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4 ways Tunisia is moving toward greater gender equality

The North African country is making major strides.

When it comes to championing for women’s rights, its safe to say the Arab world has had a relatively prosperous couple of years. From lifting the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia to abolishing a rape law in Lebanon, the region has witnessed a wave of feminist ideologies being educated and implemented on ground.

One country, however, has made huge strides regarding women’s rights.

Here are four ways Tunisia, the country that made international headlines twice this year, is moving more and more progressively towards gender equality.

  1. The Tunisian parliament passed a law protecting women against violence

This past July, Tunisia’s parliament passed a bill introducing new criminal provisions and increasing penalties for multiple violations against women, including sexual harassment and discrimination. The Human Rights Watch described it as a “landmark step for women’s rights.”

It’s worth noting that women’s rights organizations in Tunisia have been campaigning for more effective domestic violence laws for decades. Their demands included eliminating a provision from the penal code that allowed a rapist to escape punishment if he marries his victim, amongst other things.

According to HRW, the law also “criminalizes the employment of children as domestic workers, and fines employers who intentionally discriminate against women in pay.”

  1. Muslim women are now allowed to marry non-Muslim men

In September, the Tunisian government lifted a law mandating that if a Muslim woman was to marry a non-Muslim man, he’d have to convert to Islam first and be able to show documented proof of his conversion. 

Men, however, were legally allowed to marry a non-Muslim woman regardless of whether she converts later on.

“Congratulations to the women of Tunisia for the enshrinement of the right to the freedom to choose one’s spouse,” presidential spokeswoman Saida Garrach wrote on Facebook, according to a translation by Al Jazeera.

Back in August, Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi said that the state is “obliged to achieve full equality between women and men and to ensure equal opportunities for all responsibilities.” He was referring to Tunisia’s 2014 constitution, which was drafted during the Arab Spring.

  1. Tunisia’s parliament has the highest female representation in any Arab country

Topping the list with 33.6 percent in 2016, 73 out of the total 217 seats were occupied by women in the Tunisian parliament. That makes up more than one-third of the total number of MPs, topping even the average number of female representation in the European Union (27 percent).

In 2017, at 31.3 percent, the average number of women in parliament even topped that of Germany (30.7 percent).

“Women represent 60 percent of those working in the medical sector, 35 percent in engineering, 41 percent in the judiciary, 43 percent in law and 60 percent in higher education,” said Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi.

  1. Tunisia imposes a death penalty on rapists

Joining Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Tunisia is one of the few countries in the region to have imposed a death penalty on rapists, ranging between 15 years and life sentencing.

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