Tunisian president calls for gender equality in inheritance

Sharia law puts women at disadvantage, varying reactions

14 August, 18:51

    TUNIS - As part of a ceremony marking national Women's Day, Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi said that the country would be able to ensure equal rights for men and women in inheritance law. The day commemorates the entering into force of the Personal Status Code in 1956 and has long been used as a chance to take stock of the condition of women in the country.

    Sharia law generally gives women half of what it gives men in inheritance, while making men financially responsible for women.

    However, the exact circumstances and the degree of kinship also play a role. And, though the Tunisian upper-middle class has thus far circumvented the laws through donations or property sales, those who live in rural, conservative areas and who are less well educated tend to suffer a great deal from the current regulations. The president also said that he had contacted the justice ministry to revise a November 5, 1973 circular that prohibits marriage between a non-Muslim foreigner and a Tunisian woman.

    Essebsi also announced that a commission would be set up for individual freedoms and equality under the presidency that will be tasked with drawing up a report on reforms concerning gender-equality issues in line with the 2014 constitution and international human rights laws.

    The president's statements sparked a variety of reactions from politicians and citizens alike, as is usually the case whenever issues pertaining to religion are touched upon. The regulations for inheritance issues in the country are derived directly from the Quran, as is the prohibition for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man. Essebsi's critics have called his proposals ''blasphemous'', while supporters instead say they are ''historic''. Aware of the potential impact of these proposals, Essebsi noted in his speech that he trusted in Tunisians' intelligence to deal with them. In recent weeks, the Tunisian parliament unanimously passed a law against violence against women that did away with the practice allowing men who rape underage girls to avoid punishment by marrying their victims. 

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