Photo: AFP
'Change points to what women in Tunisia have failed to achieve until now in the Muslim society'
Photo: AFP
Smadar Perry

Change in status of Arab women begins in Tunisia

Analysis: Situation of tens of millions of women in Arab and Muslim world, even after Arab Spring, is in alarming state of regression. In Tunisia, however, innovative constitution sees women as worthy of any position.

From the unexpected place, in Tunisia, comes a sensational promise for women in the Arab world. If they insist upon implementing the new constitution, especially Article 46 which insists upon full equality for women at home, in workplaces and even it politics, it will be a huge breakthrough. But the big dream, as the skeptics warn, depends on the execution.



Behind the scenes of the surprising move is splendid and intensive cooperation between Islamists, seculars, human rights organizations and international associations. But at the end of the effort, the change points to what women in Tunisia have not had until now, and what they have failed to achieve to this day in the Muslim society.


The innovative constitution of Tunisia, the Arab Spring's first stop, is being fixed firmly at the top. From now on, one can imagine a woman in the palace, as the state's president, and it is forbidden to discriminate against her or favor a man for senior positions. The new law sees women as worthy of any position.


And also in terms of the charged issue of relations within the family, the new constitution plants a rose garden for women: It is forbidden to force marriage and strike deals behind the designated bride's back. Married women, just like their spouses, are allowed to initiate and demand a divorce. The new law also bans polygamy and promises prison sentences for violent husbands.


If you're opening your eyes in wonder and asking, "Why Tunisia of all places?" let us remind you of Wassila, the iron lady of late President Habib Bourguiba. She was the pioneer of feminism behind the old president's back, and when he died, women's rights were erased as well and equality faded away.


Now, in honor of International Women's Day, Arab researcher Rahilla Zafar revealed a rare documentation: Thirty-five testimonies of leading businesswomen, high-tech entrepreneurs, managers of successful offices from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Morocco, who "did it." But even Zafar admits that the situation of tens of millions of women in the Arab and Muslim world, even after the Arab Spring, is in an alarming state of regression.


Here are some troubling examples: Indonesia has adopted the Egyptian model of virginity tests for single women. A teenage girl dreaming of being hired as a flight attendant in the national airline was forced, for the sake of her employers, to undergo the humiliating test. The age of marriage has gone down again in most countries of the Arab world, both those which went through the Arab Spring and those which the domino effect of the protests skipped. The economic distress dictates deals on girls' fate, like goods exchanging hands. The sexual harassment phenomenon has not received local treatment to this very day – within 24 hours, 186 complaints were recorded in Cairo's crowded Tahrir Square. The media reports, the testimonies are shocking, and the government is too busy.


In addition, the new "terrorism law" in Saudi Arabia aims, among other things, to cut the engines of the cars of women trying to break the taboo over sitting behind the wheels. In the past year, dozens insisted on confronting the morality police and religious scholars. Tradition won, against their interests. The poor status of Saudi women, the dream of equal rights and their status in the eyes of the law are slowly becoming a dream moving farther away.


After Afghanistan, which is returning to the strict burqa, women's greatest fall is taking place in Syria. Three million refugees, most of whom have lost their breadwinner, and thousands of young women who have been kidnapped from the street to detention centers and prisons. Each one of them will carry through her entire life a horrifying story about violent torture and rape, which has become a "must" during the interrogations. The government doesn't bother denying it, and the miserable women have no one to come to their defense.


פרסום ראשון: 03.08.14, 09:15
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