Tunisia promises better protection for women’s rights

By Jihane Bergaoui

Tunis feels like a city poised at the crossroads of a new identity, with uncertainty, worry, and hope felt in equal measure. The street art from what has been labelled the Arab spring is still a striking presence on the buildings there. It reminds you at every second turn of the hope that fuelled the uprising, of the desire for freedom.

That desire for freedom seemed even more pronounced last week, when I was in the Tunisian capital watching my colleagues from Amnesty Tunisia handing in a petition signed by over 198,000 Amnesty International supporters worldwide.

Together, we have been calling on the Tunisian authorities to end discrimination against women and girl and protect survivors of sexual violence.

And thanks to everyone who took action, we’re now several steps closer to achieving this.

Tunisian officials personally accepted our petition at a highly publicized press conference in Tunis. They also promised to take specific measures to combat gender-based violence as a comprehensive draft law that would further protect women’s rights in Tunisia is expected to be unveiled in the coming weeks.

“The Ministry is working to create a legal medical department in Charles Nicolle Hospital, which will house a judicial unit specialized in gender-based violence to accommodate women who are victims of spousal violence.” – Mohamed Salah Ben Ammar, Tunisia’s Minister of Health

Historic advances

2014 has seen historic advances for women’s rights in Tunisia. In January, it adopted a new constitution with strong protections for women. It also officially withdrew all of its reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in May.

“We will not accept this [gender-based] violence, and this problem concerns all Tunisians, men and women. This is a battle that affects the entirety of society, and oppresses half of its members.” – Neila Chaabane (pictured left)

With this renewed commitment to eliminating gender-based violence, Tunisia continues to break barriers for women in the Middle East and North Africa region. However, while last week gave momentum to the fight against such violence, a lot still needs to be done to  protect women and girls from sexual violence.

Please join us from 25 November to 10 December for 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, when we will be calling on you to show your solidarity with survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in Algeria, Morocco and Western Sahara and Tunisia as part of My Body My Rights, Amnesty’s global campaign on sexual and reproductive rights.

During these 16 days, we’re hosting five actions against gender-based violence in its many forms around the world, while celebrating women’s rights heroes globally. Join in, and take the first step to becoming a hero yourself.