After 44 years, Tunisian women are finally allowed to marry non-Muslim men! The controversial ban was lifted by 90-year-old President Beji Caid Essebsi, who argued last month that it was a violation of Tunisia’s new constitution.
The Tunisian government was overthrown on January 11th, 2011, causing former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee into exile. This eventually transformed Tunisia into a democratic nation, and it is the only country in the Arab world to successfully make this transition. A new constitution was adopted after the Arab Spring Revolution in 2014.
Caid Essebsi was elected to office in December of 2014, and during his presidency, Tunisian women have gained many freedoms they had only dreamed about previously.
In July, Tunisian parliament abolished a law that allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims, and now women have gained the freedom to choose their husband. That is two milestones marked in just three months!
Caid Essebsi has stated that he wants to create “total, actual equality between men and women citizens in a progressive way.”
Tunisia is without a doubt the most progressive country in the Middle East and North Africa, and the first country in the area to remove the legal hurdles that prevent women from marrying outside of the official state religion. 99 percent of Tunisia’s population is Muslim, but this fact should not interfere with a woman’s freedom of choice, especially when men have never been restricted to whom they are allowed to marry.
“Now I have the right to be married to whomever I want and I am protected by the law,” said teacher Azza Baaziz, who had to travel to France to marry her French husband two years ago. She has been living in constant fear of the law, only because the person she loves is not Muslim. Now she is free from that fear.
Regardless of the good it has done for many women in Tunisia, some worry that the lift of the ban is just a distraction from other controversial political moves being made, like the implementation of a law that would offer an amnesty to former officials linked to corruption under previous regimes.
“The measure [on marriage] is a definite gain for Tunisian women, but because of the timing it comes with a whiff of exploitation,” said Ahelm Belhadj, who is a member of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women. “It is also clear that in preparation for local elections there is a desire to underline the contrast with Islamist on women’s issues.”
It goes without saying that Tunisia still has a long way to go before women will achieve equality and ultimate freedom. There is still strong discrimination, demonstrated through many of the laws still in place, like inheritance laws. Currently, daughters are only entitled to half as much of the family’s wealth as the son, but hopefully, policies like this will be abolished in the coming years, just as marriage laws are fading into the past.
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