Tunisia is at an historic moment of negotiating the new foundations of its nation-state. The United Nations Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice is impressed by the broad-based engagement of citizens, men and women, through official mechanisms as well as from the streets, in this process of national debate. It notes, however, that such wide participation in public and political life takes place in a climate of insecurity, given attacks on public speech and expression, including stigmatization of women who speak out. It calls on the State to fulfill its human rights obligations by effectively protecting the individual rights and freedoms, including ensuring that everyone has the space to participate freely and in safety in all aspects of political and public life. It recognizes that while there is consensus on a number of issues, there remain diverging views which, without space for a respectful and democratic debate, may further polarize the society and potentially impede advances in women’s human rights.
The UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice, represented by Kamala Chandrakirana and Eleonora Zielinska, paid attention to women’s participation in public and political life, with particular focus on the drafting of the Constitution. During its five-day mission, the delegation held constructive discussions in Tunis and Jendouba with Government officials and local authorities, members of the National Constituent Assembly, the national human rights institution, national and local civil society organizations, religious institutions, constitutional experts, academics and representatives of United Nations agencies.
The Working Group recognized that the new Constitution is seen as a vehicle to rectify past injustices and inequalities, secure existing gains and further advance justice, democracy and human rights, including the rights of women in Tunisia.
While noting that some improvements have been made in the current draft of the Constitution, such as notably the repeal of the women’s role as “complementary to the one of the men in the family” and the introduction of an article on elimination of violence against women, the Working Group insists on the need for stronger constitutional provisions on gender equality and non-discrimination which will pave the way for future legislative reforms. It remains concerned at the persistence of loopholes and ambiguities which, if not removed, might undermine the protection of women’s rights and the principle of gender equality.
The current draft constitution fails to refer to the international human rights obligations to which Tunisia is bound. It further omits to mention the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights which is crucial to ensure that future legislative reforms do not undermine legislative gains, particularly for women’s rights. While equality between men and women is recognized, the prohibition of discrimination, including on the ground of sex, is not articulated in the second draft constitution and there is a lack of provision on the right to remedy. The Working Group is concerned that this draft fails to specify the spheres of life in which the right to equality is guaranteed, i.e., public and private. In relation to women’s rights, in particular, it does not specify the different rights, namely civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights. Recognizing the efforts to reach parity between men and women during the 2011 elections, the Working Group recommends that the Constitution provides for the use of temporary special measures to accelerate increased participation of women in all spheres of lives. Such inclusion would also have the benefit to clarify the new provision on the equality of opportunities between men and women.
At the level of institutional design, and while noting the establishment of a number of constitutional authorities, the Working Group notes that no mechanism is foreseen to monitor compliance with women’s equality and the elimination of discrimination against women in Tunisia. In that regard, it emphasizes the importance of establishing the explicit requirement of gender balance and gender responsiveness in every constitutional authority and suggests the consideration of the establishment of a specialized constitutional authority on gender equality.
While being assured by the government that it is at the final process of withdrawing all reservations to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, including the general declaration, the Working Group has learned that this issue has been brought to the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) for discussion. It calls the NCA to promptly complete the process at the national and international level.
Rural women need to be an integral part of the historic reforms the country is undergoing. On a daily basis rural women go out and work as casual labourers in the agricultural fields or as domestic workers in private homes, accepting abysmal and degrading working conditions, with very low pay or no pay at all. For young people, particularly women, the future remains uncertain as unemployment affects them disproportionately despite having reached a high level of education. Women victims of past human rights violations are beginning to organize among themselves and make their stories heard. Without special measures that would be responsive to the particular marginalization of these women, Tunisia will not fully achieve its own revolutionary aspirations of dignity, freedom and justice. The Working Group encourages the Government, at central, regional and local level, as well as the civil society organizations to reach out to these women at this critical moment to improve their capacities as equal citizens who are entitled to fully participate in the public and political life of their country.
Finally, the Working Group wishes to thank the Government for its cooperation prior to and during the visit and all the interlocutors for their time and openness in discussing issues related to its mandate.
The Working Group will present its final conclusions and recommendations stemming from its visit in its report to the Human Rights Council in June 2013.
For additional information on the mandate of the Working Group, please visit:
Un Human Rights, Country Page – Tunisia
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