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Tunisia: UN expert group calls on new Government to protect and strengthen achievements on equality and women’s human rights

GENEVA (21 August 2012) – The United Nations Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice called on the new Tunisian Government to take all necessary steps to safeguard the country’s achievements on equality, non-discrimination and women’s human rights, in accordance with its international human rights obligations. In that respect, the experts emphasized the actions taken by successive Tunisian leaders to promote equality between women and men since the country’s independence.

“The Working Group is concerned that in the drafting of a new Constitution, in particular, its article 28, gains on equality and women’s human rights and women’s status in society achieved in the last five decades risk being rolled back” said Kamala Chandrakirana, who currently heads the UN expert panel.

The draft text places women on unequal footing with men and does not consider them as independent, full individuals. It delineates their role as ‘complementary to the one of the men in the family’ and fails to ensure that this provision is reciprocal. “Rights are guaranteed to women not on the basis of them being entitled to human rights by virtue of the fact that they are human, but rather, them being complementary to men,” the human rights expert stressed.

“Although the text refers to women’s role in nation-building, it conditions this on women being ‘complementary to men,’ thereby failing to establish the basis for full independence and empowerment of women, and their participation as active citizens for change,” she explained.

In recent years, Tunisia has been at the forefront of aspirations for change, with popular demands for democracy and human rights inspiring the ‘Arab Spring.’ On 14 January 2011, its political transition started and in December, an interim Government was appointed.

For the Working Group, political transitions, such as the one Tunisia is undergoing, offer unprecedented opportunities for further progress on and consolidation of women’s human rights. “The country’s leadership must seize on them for the good of their people, women and men alike,” Ms. Chandrakirana underscored. “No retrogression is therefore permissible.”

The quest for equality in Tunisia was pursued for almost a century by the women’s movement and inspired the Government to adopt the Code of Personal Status in 1956. As a result, women in Tunisia have long enjoyed an admired position in a region where much remains to be done to protect and promote women’s human rights. “The current Government has an obligation and responsibility to build on these achievements,” Ms. Chandrakirana said. “While Governments change, international human rights obligations remain binding.”

The Government of Tunisia has accepted a visit of the group of independent experts on discrimination against women in law and in practice to that country in November. “The Working Group looks forward to engaging with a broad range of Government and non-governmental stakeholders with a view to consolidating and progressing on women’s human rights in Tunisia,” she said.

The UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice is composed of five independent experts from all regions of the world: Kamala Chandrakirana, Chair-Rapporteur (Indonesia); Emna Aouij (Tunisia); Mercedes Barquet (México); Frances Raday (Israel/United Kingdom) and Eleonora Zielinska (Poland). Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/WGWomen/Pages/WGWomenIndex.aspx

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Nathalie Stadelmann (+41 917 9104 / nstadelmann@ohchr.org) or write to wgdiscriminationwomen@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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