Tunisia’s president Beji Caid Essebsi has led a campaign for gender equality since taking office in December 2014. The president argues the existing practice violates Tunisia’s constitution — adopted in 2014 in the wake of the Arab Spring revolution — and he wants Tunisia to reach “total, actual equality between men and women citizens in a progressive way,” as called for in the charter.
The ban, which is finally lifted, was initially put in place in 1973 and forced non-Muslim men who wanted to marry a Tunisian woman to convert to Islam and show proof (usually a certificate of conversion). But, on the other hand, Tunisian men were free to marry non-Muslim women who didn’t have to convert.
This gender equality measure is the latest one put in place under President Beji Caid Essebsi. Back in July, Tunisia passed tougher laws on domestic and sexual violence as well as sexual harassment in public spaces. The new laws also closed a controversial loophole which granted rapists a reprieve if they married their victims.
Saida Garrach, a spokeswoman for President Beji Caid Essebsi, said all texts relating to the prevention of marriage to non-Muslims have been repealed. “Congratulations to the women of Tunisia in enshrining the right to choose a spouse.”
In a speech last month, Essebsi proposed allowing women the same inheritance rights as men, instead of the current system based on Islamic Shariah law that generally grants daughters only half the inheritance given to sons. But while he has managed to deliver on marriage equality and domestic violence laws, he will likely face stiffer opposition while pushing for similar proposals on Tunisia’s historical inheritance laws.
According to the Washington Post, Tunisian women’s rights plan rattles Muslim traditionalists. Just raising the call for change is a dramatic move. Mainstream Muslim clerics almost universally see the inheritance rules as enshrined in the Quran, Islam’s holy book, and consider the rules on marriage to be equally unquestionable in Shariah… Some worry that such changes could stir up extremist anger in a country that has already suffered deadly attacks.
Former Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali warned against anything that would “threaten social peace” and said the president’s ideas aren’t taking into consideration the feelings of all Tunisians, just a liberal segment of the population. “Either the chief of state doesn’t know that a text codified by the Quran cannot be subject to interpretation, or it is a political calculation,” he said on his Facebook page.
Photo Credits: Matrimonio