Country visit to Tunisia
Tunisian women during a demonstration aimed at claiming the consolidation of their fundamental rights in the new draft constitution, Tunis, 2012
At the invitation of the Government, the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice visited Tunisia from 7 to 11 January 2013. The visit came at an historic moment where Tunisia was negotiating the new foundations of its nation-state. The Working Group was 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 noted, 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 called 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 recognized 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 Working Group 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.
At the level of institutional design, and while noting the establishment of a number of constitutional authorities, the Working Group noted 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.
The Working Group encouraged the Government, at central, regional and local level, as well as the civil society organizations to reach out to rural 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.
The Working Group presented its final conclusions and recommendations stemming from its visit in its report to the Human Rights Council in June 2013.