Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Tunisia: Another step towards gender equality

Tunisia is the second country in the MENA region after Morocco to withdraw all reservations to CEDAW. Decree 103 was signed by the President of the Transitional Government Fuad Almabza on the 24th of October 2011 - marking another significant breakthrough for the country towards gender equality.

Tunisia signed the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1985. CEDAW, often referred to as the international bill of rights for women, stipulates provisions regarding nationality in its Article 9. In the light of statelessness issues, this article is of high importance since it grants women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children. This can reduce the number of cases of statelessness on a large scale given that Tunisian mothers can now pass their nationality to their children, whereas before it was almost impossible to do that without the request of the father.

Almost all states in the MENA region still maintain reservations to articles on nationality, marriage and family. The Tunisian citizenship law was amended several times in order to abolish the inequality between men and women. The first amendment came in 1993 and gave children born to Tunisian mothers and foreign fathers the right to obtain the Tunisian nationality.  This could only be initiated after the parents submit a joint written approval while the child is under the age of 19. In 2002, a further  amendment provided that a child would be given nationality based on a written request from the mother alone. This amendment was aimed at solving cases where the father passed away or disappeared, as well as the cases where the father is unknown or legally incompetent.

The last positive amendments of the Tunisian Code of Nationality took place in December 2010 through the adoption of Law n° 2010-55. The amendment abolishes and replaces article 6 of the Code of Nationality, which now reads that “the child born to a Tunisian father or Tunisian mother is considered to be Tunisian”. According to this amendment, the application procedure where the Tunisian nationality could be obtained only after the parents submit a joint written approval provided that the child is under the age of 19, is no longer required.

All of these steps ahead have been supported and in many cases pushed forward through women’s rights movements, probably one of the most active and strongest in the region. Among others, independent Tunisian women's NGOs in conjunction with research institutes and governmental organisations continue to work together in order to implement the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, a global agreement on women's rights.
Despite the fact that Tunisia is a leader in granting women equal rights with men across the MENA region, as well as the important steps undertaken on these issues, their practical application still remains to be seen in the future.  We hope that these amendments will not only make an impact on paper, but will make a real change through their implementation, and will heed other countries to follow.

The Statelessness Programme will continue to follow these developments as part of the MENA research project.

By Valeriia Cherednichenko, Intern, Statelessness Programme, Tilburg University

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