Tunisia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (“CEDAW”) on September 20, 1985.
Upon ratification, Tunisia made reservations to articles 9:2, 15:4, 16, and 29:1 as described in detail below:
- General declaration: The Tunisian Government declares that it shall not take any organizational or legislative decision in conformity with the requirements of this Convention where such a decision would conflict with the provisions of chapter I of the Tunisian Constitution.
- Reservation concerning article 9, paragraph 2: The Tunisian Government expresses its reservation with regard to the provisions in article 9, paragraph 2 of the Convention, which must not conflict with the provisions of chapter VI of the Tunisian Nationality Code.
- Reservation concerning article 16, paragraphs (c), (d), (f), (g) and (h): The Tunisian Government considers itself not bound by article 16, paragraphs (c), (d) and (f) of the Convention and declares that paragraphs (g) and (h) of that article must not conflict with the provisions of the Personal Status Code concerning the granting of family names to children and the acquisition of property through inheritance.
- Reservation concerning article 29, paragraph 1: The Tunisian Government declares, in conformity with the requirements of article 29, paragraph 2 of the Convention, that it shall not be bound by the provisions of paragraph 1 of that article which specify that any dispute between two or more States Parties concerning the interpretation or application of the present Convention which is not settled by negotiation shall be referred to the International Court of Justice at the request of any one of those parties. The Tunisian Government considers that such disputes should be submitted for arbitration or consideration by the International Court of Justice only with the consent of all parties to the dispute.
- Declaration concerning article 15, paragraph 4: In accordance with the provisions of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, dated 23 May 1969, the Tunisian Government emphasizes that the requirements of article 15, paragraph 4, of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women, and particularly that part relating to the right of women to choose their residence and domicile, must not be interpreted in a manner which conflicts with the provisions of the Personal Status Code on this subject, as set forth in chapters 23 and 61 of the Code.
Summary of Official CEDAW Reports:
To date, Tunisia has submitted two official periodic reports to the CEDAW Committee (“Committee”). The combined initial and second report was released in September 1993 and the combined third and fourth periodic report was submitted in July 2000. In response to the most recent report, the Committee released comments in June 2002 regarding Tunisia’s progress in implementing CEDAW as well as the areas of concerns. The Committee expressed appreciation for Tunisia’s report as well as the extensive written replies to the issues raised by the pre-session working group. The Committee also noted the high-level delegation, headed by the Minister for Women and Family Affairs.
A detailed account of progress expressed by the Committee following Tunisia’s report in 2002 as follows:
- Its political will and commitment to implementing the Convention and to achieving equality between women and men, as reflected in a range of laws, institutions, policies, plans and programs to address discrimination against women in Tunisia.
- Early reforms of its Personal Status Code, which abolished polygamy and granted the right to divorce to both spouses, and its reform of the inheritance law. The Committee welcomes the continuing legislative reforms by the State party. It welcomes the amendments to the Personal Status Code, which provide women with the capacity to institute legal proceedings in their own name, affirm the principle of equality and partnership between spouses, provide that both parties should cooperate in managing family affairs, prevent manipulation of divorce proceedings by the husband, allow spouses to agree to a joint property regime and grant women the right to give their family name to a child born of an unknown father and the opportunity for gene-testing to prove parenthood. The Committee also welcomes the reform of the Penal Code, which imposes heavy penalties for the killing of a woman for adultery.
- Reforms made to the nationality law introduced by the State party in working towards harmonizing the law with article 9 of the Convention.
- Progressive development of the national machinery and the reconstitution of the Ministry for Women and Family Affairs as a full Ministry in 1999. The Committee notes with appreciation that the Ministry’s budget has doubled since 1994. The Committee further commends the efforts of the State party to consolidate the status of Tunisian women through the establishment of the commission for monitoring the image of women in the media and a national commission for the promotion of rural women.
- Progress made in increasing the enrolment and retention of girls in schools at all levels, including in higher education, the diversification in their areas of study, and reduction of female illiteracy. The Committee commends the measures taken to improve women’s health, including through the provision of reproductive health services and reduction of maternal and child mortality rates. The Committee also notes that rural women are enjoying an overall improvement in the quality of rural life due to a combination of regional development and overall sectoral policies, and that these women are benefiting from technical and financial support through the efforts of the economic and financial authorities in Tunisia.
A detailed account of recommendations made by the Committee following Tunisia’s report in 2002 as follows:
- Expedite the steps necessary for the withdrawal of its reservations.
- Continue the process of legislative reform and review relevant existing laws in consultation with women’s groups.
- Include the definition of discrimination against women in accordance with article 1 of the Convention in its national law and to ensure adequate mechanisms to enable women to seek and obtain redress from the courts for violation of the rights protected by the Convention and the Constitution, with appropriate remedies.
- Intensify education and training programs on the Convention to enhance the knowledge of judges, lawyers and law enforcement personnel, and provide, in its next report, information about complaints filed in courts based on the Convention, as well as any court decisions that refer to the Convention.
- Devise a structure for systematic data collection on all such forms of violence against women.
- Ensure that all violence against women is prosecuted and punished and that women victims of violence have immediate means of protection and redress. In the light of its general recommendation 19, the Committee requests the State party to enact specific legislation on domestic violence, including marital rape and sexual harassment. It recommends that the number of shelters for women victims of violence be increased and that full sensitization of public officials, especially law enforcement officials, the judiciary, health-care providers and social workers, to all forms of violence against women is ensured.
- Create public awareness of violence against women as an infringement of human rights that has grave social costs for the whole community.
- Include in its next report information and data on, and the measures taken to prevent and combat, trafficking in women and girls and exploitation of prostitution, as well as the measures taken to protect, rehabilitate and reintegrate women and girls who have been victims.
- Take measures to increase the representation of women in high-level decision-making positions through, inter alia, the implementation of temporary special measures, in accordance with article 4, paragraph 1, of the Convention in order to realize women’s right to participate in all areas of public life and, particularly, at high levels of decision-making.
- Adopt appropriate measures to ensure women’s equal access to paid employment, and adopt and enforce appropriate legislation to ensure equal opportunities for women and men in the public and private sectors of the labor market, and to prevent direct and indirect discrimination in employment. The Committee requests the State party to include in its next report sex-disaggregated data on wages, pensions and social rights.
- Further implement programs specifically designed to reduce female illiteracy, particularly among rural and older women.
- Include in its next report information on the situation of single women with children born out of wedlock, including the measures taken to ensure that their rights are protected.
- Accept the amendment to article 20, paragraph 1, of the Convention, concerning the meeting time of the Committee.
- Sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention.
- Taking account of the gender dimensions of declarations, programs and platforms for action adopted by relevant United Nations conferences, summits and special sessions (such as the special session of the General Assembly to review and appraise the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (the twenty-first special session), the special session of the General Assembly on children (the twenty-seventh special session), the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance and the Second World Assembly on Ageing), the Committee requests the State party to include information on the implementation of aspects of these documents relating to relevant articles of the Convention in its next periodic report.
- Disseminate widely in Tunisia the present concluding comments in order to make the people of Tunisia, and particularly government administrators and politicians, aware of the steps that have been taken to ensure de jure and de facto equality for women and the future steps required in that regard.
- Continue to disseminate widely, in particular to women’s and human rights organizations, the Convention and its Optional Protocol, the Committee’s general recommendations, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the results of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, entitled “Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace in the twenty-first century”.
Summary of Shadow Reports:
To date, no shadow report has been submitted regarding the application of CEDAW in Tunisia.
Tunisia is often referred to as the most progressive country on women’s issues in the Arab world. Over the past several decades, government commitment to incorporating women into the public sphere, coupled with reforms to the personal status code, have helped the country achieve near gender equality. Under the Tunisian Code of Personal Status, women have rights nearly equal to that of their male counterparts, particularly with regards to marriage, divorce, child custody and autonomy of persons. Although Islam provided a foundation for these laws, there are no direct references to the religion in the Code. The Ministry of Women and Family Affairs have developed several media campaigns to promote awareness of women’s legal rights, particularly among illiterate women.
Female adult illiteracy has dropped 27% since 1980, but remains significant at 42%. Nevertheless, this figure is expected to drop as nearly 100% of girls were enrolled in primary school by 1998. Women currently make up approximately 31% of the workforce. President Ben Ali has been outspoken regarding the need to encourage women to participate in the workforce, in order to benefit overall economic development. It is known that Tunisia has a take a progressive view on women’s economic participation, particularly with regards to maternity leave policies and equal employment laws, which were established in 1966.
Women hold few high-level government positions, but their interests appear to be well-represented by the number of government bodies working to advance women’s rights. These include the Ministry of Women and Family Affairs, the National Women and Development Commission, and the National Council of Women and the Family. In addition, President Ben Ali announced in November 2007 that he would increase the ratio of women’s presence on the Constitutional Democratic Rally Party’s parliamentary and municipal election lists to at least 30%.
Aside from the government’s initiatives, several women’s organizations work to advance women’s rights in Tunisia. The largest civil society group is the National Union of Tunisian Women (UNFT), which has advocated for women’s access to education. Other groups, such as the Center for Studies, Research, Documentation and Information on Women (CREDIF) as well as the Association Tunisienne des Femmes Democrates, are active in researching and publicizing women’s issues. It is important to note, however, that some women’s organizations have been denied representation by the government.
On April 21, 2009, Magharebia in Tunis had an interview with Bochra Bel Haj Hmida, a lawyer, women’s rights activist, and former president of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, regarding the status of women’s rights in Tunisia. In 1999, Ms. Hmida created the Democratic Women petition, calling for equal inheritance rights among men and women. She is also an outspoken proponent of abolishing harassment against women, and opening the dialogue on sexually-based violence against women in Tunisia.
In her interview, Ms. Hmida made note of a possible decline in Tunisian Women’s gains for four main reasons: 1) the political and cultural landscape in the Arab world, 2) western policies affected the Arab region, 3) propaganda used by the state, and 4) the media. Despite the overall progress towards advancing women’s rights in Tunisia, Ms. Hmida warned that the government’s inconsistent views towards Islam in the political, social and cultural spheres cast doubt on the legitimacy of the rights enjoyed by Tunisian women.
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