IWRAW TO CEDAW
Independent information for the twenty-seventh
session of the Committee on the Elimination
Against Women (CEDAW)
HUBERT H. HUMPHREY INSTITUTE OF PUBLIC
UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA
Combined third and fourth State
Party report (CEDAW/C/TUN/3-4)
submitted on 27 July 2000
Sources: US Department of State, World Factbook, International
Planned Parenthood Federation, Africa Online
Public life (Article 7)
- Inadequate female representation
- Lack of equal opportunities
Rural Women (Article
- Inferior services; limited access to education and training; highest
Tunisia is often
viewed as one of the most progressive Islamic states.
While the Constitution stipulates that the president
must be Muslim and the state religion is Islam,
the government has also taken steps to
secularize the country and move society away from Islamic
a part of a secularization effort, which began under the presidency
of Habib Bourguiba (1956-1987), the Tunisian government banned
all political groups formed on a religious basis; one of the
groups banned as a result of the law included the Movement
for Islamic Tendency (which was later renamed Al-Nahda).
The wearing of
hijab (traditional headscarf) was outlawed
under Bourguiba in 1986
as it was considered to identify affiliations
The government viewed Al-Nahda as its main
political opponent, and it was targeted for elimination through
the state’s adoption of restrictions on political organizing.
When Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali became president in 1987,
he lifted the ban on Al-Nahda and the wearing of hijab for
However, when the government felt threatened
by Al-Nahda both politically and culturally, the group’s activities
and organization were again prohibitted.
Currently, the wearing of hijab is forbidden in government
has demonstrated strong support and commitment to the rights
of women. However continued discrimination exists against
women especially in property and inheritance law, governed
by Shari’a (Islamic law).
Despite its progressive
social policies, the government does not tolerate criticism.
Any critical coverage of Tunisia politics and human rights
violations is very difficult given the government’s continuing
persecution of reporters and independent opposition press.
Journalists have been assaulted, fired, and put under police
surveillance as a result of critical reporting. In addition,
the state-backed Tunisian Journalists Association (AJT) supports
these crack-down measures taken by the state by further vilifying
human rights activists in written attacks that border on defamation.
and use a number of strategies to get out information on human
rights abuses. Internet, satellite television, and foreign
newspapers are some of the methods employed to publicize critical
information about the Tunisian government, although journalists
fear retribution for using these outside resources.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reports,
In June (2001), Sihem Bensedrine, a human rights activist
edits the weekly on-line magazine Kalima,
her return to Tunisia from Europe, where she had
Tunisia’s judiciary and human rights record on an
talk show that was broadcast in Tunisia. Bense-
was held for six weeks and denied visits from her family
lawyers. In August, plainclothes security forces attacked
group of supporters and family members who had gathered
celebrate her August 12 release. Charges against Bensedrine
still pending at year’s end.
A judge also filed
a complaint with the British Independent Television Commission
(ITC) against the show on which Bensedrine had appeared, alleging
libel by the program and station and requesting sanctions
and financial penalties be placed against that media outlet.
The ITC threw out the complaint, but the government
has since filed another complaint with the ITC and banned
all publications criticizing the Tunisian government and policies.
The government has also blocked web sites, both domestic and
international documenting human rights abuses in the country.
OF WOMEN IN TUNISIA PER CEDAW CONVENTION:
CONVENTION ARTICLES 1 -3:
DEFINITION OF DISCRIMINATION AND OBLIGATIONS TO ELIMINATE DISCRIMINATION;
DEVELOPMENT AND ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN
Article 6 of the
Tunisian Constitution states that “all citizens have the same
rights and the same duties.
They are equal before the law.”
Tunisia ratified the CEDAW Convention in 1985,
but reserved the provisions that contradict the Tunisian Constitution,
the Personal Status Code, or the Tunisian Nationality Code.
Specifically, Articles 9(2), 16 (c), (d), (f),
(g), and (h), and 29(2) have reservations, and 15(4) has a
The 1956 Personal
Status Code introduced radical changes to the organization
of the family in Tunisia, including the abolition of polygamy
and giving both spouses the right to initiate divorce.
In 1992, the Code was amended with the goal to further
advance women’s rights in the family. Nevertheless, Islam
has played an important role in the formation of Tunisian
law, and the Personal Status Code reflects that influence. Although the government has made an effort
to develop a “new phase of Islamic thinking” (ijtihad),
reforms that contradict traditional social
convention can sometimes be abandoned.
In addition, many women remain ignorant
of their legal rights. As of 1991, some 70 percent of illiterate
women did not know that the provisions of the Personal Status
Code granted them rights.
The Ministry of
Women’s and Family Affairs became a full-fledged ministry
in 1993 (out of the State Secretariat of Women’s and Family
Affairs which was established in 1992).
has spearheaded the development of government policy on women
and acted as coordinator on such policies with different parties.
The Ministry reportedly has also worked to
promote women’s rights in the media.
CONVENTION ARTICLE 4: TEMPORARY SPECIAL MEASURES
In an attempt
to fight discrimination in employment, the government has
made equal opportunity a mandatory part of investigation within
audits of governmental institutions and state-owned enterprises.
However, these standards have only a limited effect,
as these requirements do not apply to the private sector.
Convention Article 7 AND 8: Political and public life, AND INTERNATIONAL
Women in Government
do participate in politics, the level of participation continues
to be fairly low. Following the 1999 parliamentary elections,
only 21 out of 182 seats are occupied by women in the lower
and single houses of parliament (11.5 percent).
There are four women in the Cabinet, two of
them ministers (the Minister of Vocational Training and Employment
and the Minister for Women and Family Affairs), and the other
two hold Secretary of State positions in ministries (Secretary
of State in Charge of Housing, and the Secretary of State
to the Minister of Public Health). The vice-president of the Chamber of Deputies is a woman. Women constitute 21 percent of the Central
Committee and there is one woman (out of 10 members) on the
political committee of the ruling Democratic Constitutional
Rally (RCD). Women on municipal councils represent about 20 percent of elected
are fairly well represented on the international level, including
a Tunisian representative on CEDAW for the third consecutive
term, high-ranking representatives in the Economic Commission
for Africa, and the position of Secretary General of the Arab
Organization for the Family.
recognizes the Union Nationale De La Femme Tunisienne (UNFT),
Association Tunnisienne Des Femmes Democrates (ATFD), and
the Centre de Recherches, d'Etudes, de Documentation et d'Information
sur la Femme (CREDIF) as the only legitimate women’s organizations
in the country.
The Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH)
was banned, and its information is no longer available online.
ARTICLE 9: NATIONALITY
Following the 1992 amendments to the Personal
Status Code, a Tunisian woman may now transmit her nationality
to her children.
Until recently it had been stipulated
that the father’s consent was required in such cases.
However the government recently introduced a new law,
which would make it possible for a Tunisian mother to register
her child as a citizen in the absence of a foreign father.
Convention Article 10: Education
Although the government
has attempted to eliminate female illiteracy, a significant
number of Tunisian women and girls can neither read nor write.
The rates of illiteracy for females are double or more of
those for males in all age categories. For 10- to 14-year olds, only 2.2 percent of
urban boys are illiterate, whereas 5.5 percent of urban girls
In the rural areas, only 7 percent of the boys
are illiterate, whereas 27 percent of the girls are illiterate.
The group of 18- to 29-year old females suffers the most from
are clear signs that an increasing number of women are entering
into post-secondary education. In 2000-2001 academic year,
slightly more than half of all university students were women.
Convention Article 11: Employment
About 29 percent
of the work force is comprised of women; the majority of these
women occupy jobs in the textile, manufacturing, agricultural,
and health sectors.
Women run about 5,000 businesses
and constitute about 37 percent of the
civil service workers (especially in fields of health, education,
and social affairs). About 60 percent of Tunis judges and 24 percent of all jurists are
To reduce official discrimination, women are
to be given equal opportunity in all government departments
and sectors and in state-owned enterprises; unfortunately,
as indicated above, this equal opportunity standard is not
applicable to the private sector.
noted that women in managerial positions feel the need to
act like men in order to feel effective and in control.
On one hand, these women are expected to be
decisive and aggressive, and on the other hand they are expected
to act “feminine.” In addition, Tunisian women still suffer
from stereotyping in employment roles.
CONVENTION ARTICLE 12: HEALTH
Protection of Pregnant Women
According to the
World Bank, only 2.2 percent of Tunisian public expenditure
is used on health programs.
Pregnant women are protected under Tunisian
law. If a woman goes
on maternity leave, she can expect to receive 67 percent of
her wages paid in the covered period.
Domestic servants, however, are excluded from
receiving sickness and maternity leave.
In 1999, 20 percent of female agricultural
workers were pregnant, 40.3 percent of industrial workers
were pregnant, and 37.7 percent of the service workers were
But only 71 percent of pregnant women received
prenatal care in 1996,
and in 1999, 82 percent of pregnancies
and deliveries were attended by health care staff.
Thirty-eight percent of pregnant women are
Family Planning and Reproductive Health
is credited with being the first Arab and African country
to adopt a clear population policy, and the government’s commitment
to family planning is reflected in legislative and institutional
reforms, as well as in its support for the inclusion of family
planning services in maternal and childcare. Tunisia’s current
abortion law dates from 1973 when the new Penal Code was enacted.
Article 214 of the Penal Code authorizes the performance
of abortions on request during the first three months of pregnancy.
Government subsidizes abortion and those entitled to
receive free health care can obtain an abortion free of charge
in public hospitals.
97 percent of women have access to information about contraception.
In 1986, Tunisia was named a model country for family planning
programs and for the training of medical staff and decision
makers from other Arab countries. Approximately 50 percent
of women of reproductive age use at least one of the contraception
women show preference for the IUD's (26 percent) followed
by condoms (12 percent) and pills (7 percent).
government provides support to the Tunisian Family Planning
Association (ATFP). However, it is necessary for the government
to make further efforts to ensure access to family planning
in underprivileged areas, especially those areas outside of
urban centers, which have not enjoyed the same access to information
CONVENTION ARTICLE 14: RURAL WOMEN
In the 1990s women provided 23.5
percent of agricultural labor and 34.7 percent of temporary
agricultural workers. Rural women in Tunisia participate in a variety
of aspects of agricultural work: they work in the field, attend
to livestock, and take part in other aspects of work for the
household (such as collection of water and firewood) and the
market. However, most women work as unpaid family labor and their contribution
to agriculture has been neglected or underestimated in statistics.
Rural women have higher illiteracy rates and less access
to many services than their counterparts in urban areas, including
family planning information and services.
Schooling and professional training opportunities
for rural women are inadequate, and insufficient efforts have
been made to encourage their use and access to credit. They are mostly excluded from decision-making
in the planning of rural development.
Women’s Role in Decision-Making
Men still have
most of the decision-making power in matters such as the sale,
rental and exchange of land and other production capital.
Male planners typically make decisions on development
issues and planning, large-scale projects, and choice of technology
with minimal or no input from rural women, nor do they independently
consider the specific needs of rural women.
Illiteracy and Agricultural Training
Despite efforts by the government, illiteracy
rates in rural areas are still very high for women at more
than 60 percent.
Women’s access to many services, such as agricultural
credit, is limited by both tradition and lack of education
and information. In
the mid-1990s, women accounted for 12 percent of those enrolled
in agricultural training (8.7 percent in professional agricultural
training centers, and 18.6 percent in secondary agricultural
Convention Article 16: EQUALITY IN Marriage AND FAMILY LAW
An amendment to
the Personal Status Code abolished the “obedience” clause
of the original code, therefore giving women de jure
equal status in marriages. All marriages must be registered, and both
spouses are expected to contribute to “all family matters.”
However, it is doubtful that the improvements made in the
Code have affected the inequalities within marriages.
Although the Shari’a law became less important after
Tunisia gained its independence in 1956, Shari’a still influences
inheritance law in marriages. Property acquired during the marriage, regardless
of who actually previously owned or obtained it, is in the
name of the husband.
According to Shari’a, girls are to inherit
only half of what boys are.
A Muslim Tunisian
woman may only marry a non-Muslim if he converts to Islam;
women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men. If a Muslim
woman marries a non-Muslim outside Tunisia, the marriage would
be classified as common law, which, under the revision of
the Personal Status Code, is illegal.
On the other hand, if a non-Muslim woman marries
a Muslim Tunisian man, then the woman is not entitled to any
of the property or inheritance of her husband.
According to Shari’a
law, the father is the household head, and he makes decisions
regarding the children. For
example, he decides whether minor children may leave the country.
Some judges have allowed children to travel against
the wishes of the mother (in complete disregard for the custody
rights of mothers) because they view the father as the one
Al-Raida notes that a divorced mother has a
right of custody over sons up until seven years of age and
daughters up until nine years of age; following that, the
father will gain custody if he requests.
At times Shari’a law is held superior to statutory
law and this has occurred especially in cases over child custody.
GENERAL RECOMMENDATION NO. 19:
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
is a serious accusation: “both the fine and imprisonment for
battery or violence committed by a spouse or family member
are double those for the same crimes committed by an individual
not related to the victim.”
Although the Tunisian Penal Code has made
domestic assault a punishable crime, violence against women
is still pervasive and prosecution is infrequent. In 2000,
a family court judge reported that of the 4000 complaints
filed, one-half were subsequently dropped before any legal
action was taken.
Most women do not officially report abuse
because of the social stigma and the lack of intervention
and code enforcement by authorities such as the police and
Tunisia has one
shelter for battered women in operation. It is run by the
Tunisian Democratic Women’s Association.
About twenty women per month seek services
at the shelter. The National Union of Tunisian Women (UNFT), a government sponsored
association, also provides support and services to women in
crisis situations. The majority of UNFT’s clients are victims
of domestic violence and sexual assault.
ACTIONS TAKEN BY
OTHER UN HUMAN RIGHTS MECHANISMS
PERTAINING TO WOMEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS:
of the Committee against Torture: Tunisia.
18 and 20 November 1998.
CAT/C/SR.358, 359 and 363.
Subjects of concern:
• The definition of torture under Tunisian
law is not in conformity with article 1 of the
as the Tunisian Criminal Code, inter alia, uses the term “violence”
of torture and article 101 of the Criminal Code penalizes
the use of violence
when it is used without just cause.
• Wide gap that exists between law and practice
with regard to the protection of human
• Pressure and intimidation used by officials
to prevent the victims from lodging
• Many of the regulations existing in Tunisia
for arrested persons are not adhered to in
practice. These include limitation of pre-trial detention, immediate notification
family members, requirement of medical examination,
and carrying out of autopsies in
all cases of death in custody.
• Abuses directed against female members of
families of detainees and exiled persons;
dozens of women were subjected to violence
and sexual abuses or sexual threats in
order to put pressure on or to punish their
imprisoned or exiled relatives.
• By constantly denying these allegations,
the authorities are in fact granting those
responsible for torture immunity from punishment.
• Requests of extradition of political refugees
are not acceded to.
• Put an end to the degrading practice of torture
and to eliminate the gap between the
law and its implementation; ensure strict
enforcement of the provisions of law and
procedures of arrest and police custody;
strictly enforce procedures of registration;
ensure the right of victims of torture to
lodge a complaint without the fear of being
subjected to any kind of reprisal; and,
ensure that medical examinations are
automatically provided following allegations
of abuse and an autopsy is performed
following any death in custody.
• Reduce policy custody period to a maximum
of 48 hours; bring relevant articles of the
Criminal Code into line with the definition
of torture as contained in article 1 of the
Convention; and, amend the relevant legislation
to ensure that no evidence obtained
through torture shall be invoked as evidence
in any proceedings, except against a
person accused of torture as evidence that
the statement was made.
of the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights:
Tunisia. 14 May 1999. E/1990/6/Add.14.
• Achievements in the field of better promotion
and protection of the economic, social,
cultural rights of women; these achievements have contributed
life by making polygamy illegal and has further promoted equality
and women by removing all legal recognition of so-called “crimes
Subjects of concern:
• Inequalities between men and women continue
to persist, including with regard to
access to positions of responsibility and
to remuneration; according to laws on
inheritance, females are entitled to receive
only half of the inheritance of males;
scarcity of official data on this phenomenon.
Suggestions and recommendations:
• All men, women, and children of both sexes
should be enabled to enjoy the right to
inherit on a basis of equality.
• Monitor more closely the incidence of domestic
• Continue efforts to achieve balance in the
development of urban and rural areas
• Develop immediate national plan of action
in order to reduce the disparities of living
standards that exist between various regions
• Continue to make efforts to guarantee a basic
education to all children