Tunisia has just passed a historical constitutional clause that protects women from violence and guarantees gender equality in its legislature. This is the most significant development in Tunisian politics since the Arab Spring began there in December 2010. The constitution which is being called revolutionary, makes no mention of sharia law. Instead, it guarantees religious autonomy, and freedom.
Speaking to the BBC Lobna Jeribi a member of the Ettakattol party, said until 2011 when she joined the legislature she never considered this could happen.
“I always thought it was very much a feminist thing,” she says.
“But we ourselves, in my party, were struggling to find women to participate in the political process. There is a culture and mentality of masculinity here. If we don’t begin – the process will not start by itself.”
While the previous constitution recognised men and women as equals in Tunisia, proponents of the new clause say its implementation was not so.
A female lecturer had this to say about life for women in Tunisia under the previous constitution.
“There is a huge gap between the law and what actually happens on the street,” she says.
“Women have to say that they are married to be left alone. Once I was forbidden from sitting in a cafe because they were only men (there), and they told me women were trouble.”
Amal Mousa writing in the Aawasat, an Arab journal explains that the new Tunisian constitution is the triumph of modern over traditional values.
The new constitution criminalizes takfirism, enshrines freedom of conscience, recognizes human rights and preserves the political gains that have been made by Tunisian women. These are all clear signs that the modern elite has achieved a symbolic victory and laid the foundation stone for a Tunisian civil state.
On the other hand, the conservative and Islamist elites failed to impose their ideology on the new constitution, something they fought to enforce. The draft constitution does not provide for the hegemony of religious authority, nor does it endorse the Islamist Shari’a law interpretation of relations between genders or public freedoms.
All in all, Tunisia’s historical national identity, the accumulated political, economic and security setbacks suffered by the Ennahda Movement, and the direct and indirect pressures from the international community have combined to present Tunisian society with a more moderate and liberal constitution that recognizes civil rights and values.