INT'L ORGANIZATIONS' ACTIVITIES IN TUNISIA (2)
Zinat Sadat Motahari
MA, American Studies
The role and status of women in Tunisia as an Islamic country has always been the concern of different organizations and groups. Like other developing countries and Arab nations involved in the recent revolutions, Tunis has been frequented by many organizations related to women's rights.
These include the UN organizations, EU women groups, and independent groups and parties that have entered the realm of women's right based on their principles and priorities.
Women's voices have been echoed along with men's during the democratic uprisings in Tunis and the ousting of president Zain-al Abedin Bin Ali. Women and girls in Tunis rallied in the streets and demanded the dictator's removal from power though they are considered to be enjoying equal rights as compared to women in other Arab countries.
Tunis has been ruled by French secularism, a system to which the country's army still adheres after the revolution. The official religion of the country is Islam, even though Western ideologies have penetrated into many issues such as women's rights.
Tunisian government is one of the progressive states in promoting women's rights –in the modern sense- and many commentators believe this is the feather on Bin Ali's cap. The Code of Personal Status was ratified during the presidency of Habib Burghiba (1957-1987) and presumed under Bin Ali according to which women found rights totally equal with men.
After the revolution a group among Tunisian women with feminist and secular tendencies began to worry about their ad hoc rights in the hands of the newly elected Islamists and staged rallies to preserve their rights. In response, Al Nahdha, the prominent Islamic party of the country declared its compliance with all pre-revolution women's rights.
The main discourses women's rights discussions in the post-revolutionary Tunis are, therefore, the feminist mentality on one hand, and the defamation of women's conditions in Islamic regimes, on the other.
Int'l organizations' activities and plans in women's fields in Tunis
Respecting the international Human Rights Convention, Tunis began reforming national legislation in 1956 while the World Convention was ratified in 1948. The passage of the bill equaled the elimination of almost all forms of discrimination against women –based on international definitions. Women in Tunis found better legal and political conditions compared with peers in the region.
Based on these observations, one of the major trends in legal reforms of women's rights in Tunis has been the adjustment of the global process. Thus, according to the UNESCO definition, women' empowerment is "bringing the initial potentials, legal rights, and engagement in key realms of society, politics and economy."
Also in 1956, Tunis passed the annulations of polygamy right of men and the law of women's rights for initiating divorce, and repealed men's right of initiating divorce. Divorce law altered completely and it became the basis for child nationality law later in 1993 as a result of which women could give nationality to their children who were born abroad, regardless of fathers' nationality.
In November 21, 1967 Tunis passed Convention on the Nationality of Married Women, the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage, and the ratification of Copenhagen Convention.
The Arab Labor Organization focused on women's employment and recognizing their rights and in August 20, 1959 Tunis ratified the Non-Discrimination Convention in employment and hiring.
The other program in relation to women's condition in Tunis is UN Development Program. It is a global network that tries to bring a better life for people worldwide by assisting them with consultant programs, and sharing knowledge, experience and resources.
UNDP aims to help the developing countries, absorbing their work forces and services, and using these resources to enabling human rights and empowering women.
The official website of UNDP announced in July 2012 that it intends to employ a number of staff for women's empowerment programs in Tunis. The purpose of the programs, according to the announcement, is encouraging women to participate in socio-political activities.
The Convention for Ending Discrimination Against Women is another UN program that is active in Tunis like many other countries of the region. Like other UN programs CEDAW acts within the Inter Agency Network of Women and Gender Equality to develop and execute training programs within the target countries. The other agencies that act within the network and have the potential to be involved in Tunis women's affairs are ILO (International Labor Organization), OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights), DAW–DESA (Division for Advancement of Women-Department of Social Affairs), UNICEF (UN Children Fund), UNIFEM (UN Development Fund for Women), UNDP (UN Development Program), UNFPA (UN Population Fund) .
UN Women is an inter-agency of UN that has begun its mission in 2011. Michele Bachellet, the first executive director of the agency, has traveled to Tunis in June 16, 2011 to visit women there and indicate the need for their social engagement.
These are the main international conventions and organizations that are directly or indirectly engaged with women's issues in Tunis.
EU and Women in Tunis
European Union has always sought a defining role in developing countries and it has pursued that in form of developmental and economic programs via various organizations. Regarding the colonialist presence of France in Tunis, the EU programs here have been more successfully and seriously followed compared to similar programs in other countries involved in the Islamic Awakening. Here, we briefly introduce a number of European organizations who are active in Tunis and their methods of activity.
In April 4, 2012, EU Parliament's Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination hosted Tunisian representative, Mahrezia Labidi from Al Nahdha Party for the hearing of changes in women's condition in post-revolution Tunis.
EU's greatest women's organization, European Women's Lobby has always commented on the condition of women in Islamic countries. During the 2012 London Olympics, the organization endorsed Tunisian athlete, Habiba Sharita for her move in dedicating her silver medal to the Tunis nation especially its women. The lobby, however, criticized the International Committee of the Olympics for allowing 17 Islamic countries to submit female athletes with hijab –a criticism in sharp denial of the Islamic values that women in Islamic countries highly care in their social activity.
The main EU activities in women's issues in Tunis include performing researches and introducing sustainable plans and programs in relation to women's condition. The ETF agency is an EU Women's agency located in Italy. The agency aims at performing programs to empower women in Tunis known as "Women and Work".
"The purpose of this program is to encourage women in Arab countries to work so that women's employment rate grows to the level of Europe standards" says Milena Corradini, the ETF's expert, adding that in Tunis "only 29.9 percent of women are employed."
She counts cultural factors as well as the difficulty in coordinating work and house affairs for women as the major obstacles for women's working in Arab countries. She clarified the point that the number of Tunisian graduate women is very high but the number of those working is still low compared to working men.
UN and the guideline on defending women's rights in Tunis
In spite of all the international conventions and agreements in defending women's rights, we sadly observe signs of violence and discrimination against women in different countries. This is an indication of the fact that the conventions are not the ultimate safeguards of women's rights; the divine approach toward women's rights is required to make these attempts effective. Zainab Zabidi, one of the Tunisian women who participated in Tehran's recent Conference on Women and Islamic Awakening believes:
"Among the main issues regarding women and Tunis revolution was their attempt to preserve their Islamic identity. That is, beside shouting for their socio-political demands and requiring dignity and liberty, Tunisian women expressed their adherence to sharia and demanded the true performing of religion and enjoying the rights that sharia preserves for them.
In spite of Western theories and the globalization march that seek to underestimate the influence of religion in recent revolutions, the Tunisian women interpret Islam not as a limitation force, but as liberating them and giving them their human values. The devoutness especially among Tunisian women is observed after the fall of Bin Ali."
The Tunis revolution is understood as an attempt to find the nation's self and lost identity, as it was within the secular pre-revolution regime that the UN Commissioner of Human Rights demanded the respect for women's rights.
Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights asked Tunis' new government to respect women's rights in drafting the country's new constitution.
She further expressed concerns over the pale presence of women in the negotiations upon constitutional reforms and the resulting discrimination it might bring.
She asked the protesters whose persistence brought the dictator down to ensure the fulfillment of women's participation in forming the future of Tunis.
UN Human Rights High Commissioner added that it is important in the transforming period in Tunis and Egypt that women's rights be guaranteed.
1- المراة في تونس نويسنده سانجیتا سینا الثلاثا