Tunisia: Tunisia marks 50th anniversary of women's law

IOL - South Africa
By abolishing polygamy and changing the laws that governed marriage and separation, the Code of Personal Status is widely credited with advancing Tunisian women's status and making them among the most liberated in the Muslim world.
Still, some of the country's women's rights organisations said the legislation - the brainchild of forward-looking late President Habib Bourguiba - urged leaders to undertake further reforms.
"Enormous things have been achieved, but it would be unrealistic to consider the work completed," said Sana Ben Achour, a law professor at the University of Tunis.

Among the first measures adopted following Tunisia's independence from colonial master France in 1956, the Code banned polygamy - which, at the time, was still permitted in all other Muslim nations.

It also abolished a husband's wife to repudiate his wife and established legal divorces. In Tunisia, both spouses can file for divorce.

While applauding the Code, women's rights groups have urged the country to revamp its inheritance laws. Based on Quranic law, the existing legislation still favours male heirs by stipulating they receive twice as much inheritance as female heirs.

The 1956 Code "is not written in stone, and the legislature is still trying to make it evolve through small steps," said Tunisian lawyer Ridha Khemani.

"We need to orient ourselves toward the future and not slip backward."

Last year, Tunisia ranked highest on a study of women's rights in 16 Middle Eastern and North African countries by Freedom House, the nonpartisan, Washington-based organisation.

However, while Tunisia often wins praise for the West for its treatment of women, human rights groups criticise the government for a closed-door political system that bars dissenters, a tightly controlled press and other restrictions on civil liberties. - Sapa-AP

By Bouazza Ben Bouazza
August 13 2006