By Monia Ghanmi
As many as 9,000 women demonstrated on Monday (August 13th) in Tunis against Ennahda-proposed constitutional changes that refer to woman’s “complementarity to man”.
Article 28 of the new draft constitution says, “The state protects women’s rights and gains based on the principle that they complement with the man in the family and are associates to men in the development of country.”
The proposed article contravenes the Personal Status Code (CSP), which ensures full gender equality. Women’s rights groups and opposition parties chose the August 13th date, which marks the anniversary of the 1956 law, to protest against the controversial bill.
“Major retractions usually start with one step,” Tunisian Association of Democratic Women chief Ahlem Belhadj said at a meeting to celebrate the anniversary. “If we keep silent today, we’ll open the door for everything else, and we will end up seeing decisions that may be more dangerous.”
The draft law curtails women’s gains by making them dependent on men and involves detraction of women’s value in society, said Association of Tunisian Women for Research and Development (AFTURD) head Radhia Dridi.
Sondes Garbouj, head of Amnesty International in Tunisia, commented that the proposed article is a surprising change in the election promises of some political currents that had professed their commitment to women’s rights.
Several rights associations released a statement on August 4th to call for the article to be withdrawn.
The new wording represents a blow to gains and consolidates a patriarchal system that gives absolute power to men and denies women their rights, their statement read.
The dangers of this article are represented in not acknowledging women’s entity, citizenship and independence as members of society who have the right to enjoy their freedom and human rights equally with men, they warned.
Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi, however, dismissed the current debate as a political battle aimed at disfiguring his Islamist party. He confirmed that Ennahda would not retreat from equality between men and women.
“Complementation is an authentic concept, meaning that there would be no man without woman and no woman without man,” he said. “This is an additional meaning to the meaning of equality.”
In his turn, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said Monday that gender equality was “a settled issue” and should not be “exploited” for “political ends”. The reassurances, however, failed to allay activists’ fears and prevent them from taking to the streets.
Ennahda seeks to “Islamise” women’s rights and thus impose a certain social pattern that responds to its principles which are founded on religious bases, young woman Arwa Ajili alleged.
“I was expecting our rights to be supported after the revolution, especially as we were active partners in it,” she said. “However, unfortunately, it seems that there is backsliding and they want us to be just complementary to men.”
“The use of the concept of ‘complementation’ instead of ‘equality’ involves a fallacy that would open the door for circumventing Tunisian women’s rights,” said Roukaya Ayadi.
Tunisian women are not prepared to relinquish their rights and will fight to ensure that full and actual equality with men is codified in the next constitution, she added.