Tunisia tops Arab women’s representation in parliament

With increase in female representation in parliament, Tu­nisia shows again that it is ready to join ranks of countries led by strong-minded women.

A December 2014 file picture shows Tunisian deputies attending a parliamentary session.

2016/09/25 Issue: 74 Page: 12

The Arab Weekly
Iman Zayat

Tunis - Following the formation of the new government in Tunisia, four members of parliament were given ministerial portfolios and replaced by women in the legis­lature. This brings the share of fe­male MPs to one-third of the total number of parliament members, which is the largest proportion in the Arab world.

The new members sworn into the Assembly of the Representatives of the People are Hajer Ben Cheikh Ahmed (Afek Tounes), Lamia Dridi (Democratic Alliance), Karima Tag­gaz (Ennahda Islamist party) and Faten Oueslati (Al-Joumhouri).

The four female MPs are filling the seats of Riadh Mouakhar, Me­hdi Ben Gharbia, Saida Ounissi and Iyed Dahmani.

That increased the number of Tunisian women in parliament to 73 of the overall 217 seats (33.6%), in comparison to an average female representation of 27% in the na­tional parliaments of the European Union.

With this increase in the female representation in parliament, Tu­nisia shows again that it is ready to join the ranks of countries led by strong-minded women.

Over the years, progress in wom­en’s rights in the North African country has been widely recog­nised as significant and it has set a standard for other countries in the Arab region.

In July, Habib Essid, then the prime minister, lost a vote of con­fidence and stepped down to make way for a unity government. The transition was an opportunity to enhance women’s progress.

With a significant number of women in executive positions of responsibility, the cabinet of new Prime Minister Youssef Chahed proved to be a milestone: Women are 23% of ministers and 19.5% of the new cabinet.

The youngest member of the government is Saida Ounissi, 29, who was elected to parliament in 2014 and has been nominated as state secretary in charge of private initiative in the Employment and Vocational Training Ministry.

The roots of Tunisia’s pioneer­ing model in women’s rights reach back to the beginning of the 20th century. It was then that Tahar Haddad, a scholar of Tunisia’s Zi­touna mosque, called for freeing women from all of their traditional bonds.

In Our Women in the Sharia and Society, published in 1929, Haddad advocated formal education for women and maintained that Islam had been distorted and misinter­preted.

In the name of Islam, Haddad de­nounced abuses against women as “repudiation”, in which a husband could divorce his wife without grounds or explanation, sending her back to her family or leaving her for another wife.

Building upon the positive at­mosphere created by Haddad’s writing, Tunisian women advanced their own cause significantly by playing active roles in the country’s struggle for independence.

As a result of strenuous efforts, an inclination to act towards the best for the country, and the re­markable foresight demonstrated by Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, women benefited al­most immediately from the coun­try’s independence.

In a speech in August 1956, Bour­guiba paid special tribute to the role of women in the independ­ence struggle and issued a Code of Personal Status to “remove all in­justices” and promulgate “laws re­habilitating women and conferring upon them their full rights”.

Fifty-five years after independ­ence, the 2011 revolution provided women with a new opportunity to keep their rights and gain political and civil participation.

Iman Zayat is the Managing Editor of The Arab Weekly.

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