Tunisia: Equal inheritance historic step toward gender equality in Arab region

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

Rights organizations in the Arab region applaud the Tunisian president and cabinet for ratifying the bill on equal inheritance for men and women last month, and referring it to the parliament for final approval. This is a historic step toward equality between men and women in Tunisia and the entire Arab region. The undersigned rights groups urge other Arab governments and parliaments to follow the Tunisian example. We also call on religious institutions and political Islamist forces to offer moral support for this historic measure and abandon narrow interpretations of religious texts. In the face of patriarchal dominance in some traditional communities in the Arab region, some governments, institutions, and forces that consider such narrow interpretations sacrosanct nevertheless do not rally in defense of them when women are denied even the lesser inheritance—half that of men—upheld by those interpretations.

A year ago, President Beji Caid Essebsi formed the Committee for Individual Freedoms and Equality, headed by prominent human rights defender Bochra Belhaj Hamida, to prepare a report on reforms needed to ensure individual liberties and equality in line with the Tunisian constitution and universal human rights standards. The committee’s report included three major proposals: ending capital punishment, equality in inheritance, and the decriminalization of homosexuality. The recommendations are the culmination of the Tunisian revolution and the reformist legislative agenda initially set by Habib Bourguiba, the first Tunisian president, in personal status laws.

The recommendations also originate from the feminist and civil rights struggle underway since the 1970s, which refused to separate women’s rights from human rights in Tunisia, even in the face of opposition toward Bourguiba. Those in that struggle recognized early on the interdependent relationship between human and women’s rights; they understood that personal status matters were a first step and that achieving equality between women and men requires genuine, active citizenship, respect for individual rights, and the rule of law. The women’s movement played a dynamic role in the struggle for democracy before and after the Tunisian revolution and helped to defeat bills incompatible with democratic aspirations in the country.

The undersigned rights organizations urge all civic forces in Tunisia and the Arab region to support this historic bill to achieve real equality until it is enacted as law. This bill is the fulfillment of the values and principles of the Tunisian revolution and the Arab Spring, and a test of the momentum building for the civil state and social modernization. Addressing an area in which the state has long lagged behind other areas of the world, the equal inheritance law will enable Tunisia to meet the tremendous economic and social challenges facing countries in the region in the 21st century.

Signatory Organizations:

  1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  2. Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
  3. Andalus Center for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
  4. Arab Foundation for Civil and Political Rights –Nidal
  5. Egyptian Front for Human Rights
  6. Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Researches
  7.  Palestinian Human Rights Organization (PHRO)
  8. Tunisian Forum on Economic and Social Rights
  9. Tunisian Association of Democratic Women
  10. Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights
  11. Committee for the Respect of Freedoms and Human Rights in Tunisia
  12. Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
  13. Tunisian Association for the Defense of Individual Liberties
  14. National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists
  15. Tunisian Women Association for Development Research
  16. Democratic Transition and Human Rights Support (DAAM)
  17. The Tunisian Federation of Citizens of the Two Shores
  18. Coalition for Democracy in Algeria
  19. Migration Network for Democratic Development
  20. Union of Tunisians Working for Citizenship
  21. Cap Association of the Mediterranean
  22. Vigilance Committee for Democracy
  23. The Youth Movement of Algeria
  24. The Moroccan Observatory of Public Freedoms
  25. Action for Change and Democracy in Algeria
  26. Moroccan Alternatives Forum
  27. Coalition of Tunisian Women
  28. Committee for Justice (CFJ)
  29. Confédération Générale Autonome des Travailleurs en Algérie CGATA
  30. Syndicat National Autonome des Personnels de l’Administration Publique (SNAPAP)

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