Gender Equality in Tunisia
Flag of Tunisia
|Population (in Mil.)||10.78|
|Gross Domestic Product (In USD Billions - WB)||45.24|
|Sex Ratio (m/f)||0.99|
|Life Expectancy Ratio (f/m)||1.054794521|
|Estimated Earned Income (f/m)|
|Tertiary Enrolment Ratio (f/m)||34.4|
|Women in Parliament (in %)||26.7|
|Human Development Index||94/187|
|Social Institutions and Gender Index||22/86|
|Gender Inequality Index||94/186|
|Gender Equity Index||168/168|
|Women’s Economic Opportunity Index||49/128|
|Global Gender Gap Index||/68|
|More information on variables|
- 1 Social Institutions
- 2 The Women, Business and the Law
Formerly a French protectorate, Tunisia gained independence from France in 1956. The country has a diversified economy, which includes agriculture, mining, tourism and manufacturing. Tunisia is classed as a lower middle income country by the World Bank. The majority of the Tunisian population are Muslim. In January 2011, President Ben Ali was ousted from power following weeks of demonstrations over high levels of unemployment, poverty, corruption, and rising food prices. This inspired uprisings across the region that became known as the Arab Spring. Women are reported to have played a visible and significant role in the demonstrations. A programme of modernisation and reform introduced by Tunisia’s first post-independence leader, President Habib Bourguiba, led to rapid advances in women’s legal rights and female education, unmatched by any other Arab nation.  Within a few months in 1956, the government had amended the former family code, banning polygamy and repudiation, promoting consensual marriage and introducing equal divorce proceedings. Further amendments to the personal status code, labour code, and criminal code further strengthened women’s rights in Tunisia. The enrolment of girls in primary and secondary schools was accelerated, and by the 1980s, enrolment rates for both girls and boys were very high.  That said, advancement in ensuring women’s rights and access to education has not translated into women’s economic empowerment, as women’s participation in the economic sphere remains low. Tunisia’s constitution enshrines the principle of gender equality at articles 6 and 7.  Reforms to the Personal Status Code, Labour Code, and Penal Code undertaken in 1993 further reinforced women’s social, cultural and political rights in Tunisia.  Tunisia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1985, but with reservations to Article 9(2), regarding the right of a woman to pass her nationality to her children; Article 15(4), regarding the right of the woman to choose her own domicile; several paragraphs of Article 16 related to marriage and divorce; and Article 29, regarding arbitration of disputes arising from the convention.  These reservations were removed in 2011. The Optional Protocol was ratified in 2008, making Tunisia one of only two countries in the region to ratify the protocol (along with Libya).   Tunisia has yet to ratify the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the rights of women in Africa. Tunisia is ranked in 94th place in the 2011 Human Development Index (out of 187 countries), with a value of 0.698. The country’s Gender Inequality Index value is 0.293 placing it at 45 out of 146 countries with data. Tunisia is ranked in 108th place in the 2011 Global Gender Gap Index, with a score of 0.6255.
Discriminatory Family Code
The Tunisian personal status code underwent significant amendments in 1956 and 1993, as a result of which many discriminatory clauses were removed. The one exception to this was matters relating to inheritance.
The minimum age for marriage for men and women in Tunisia is 18.   Up-to-date figures are not available, but according data from 1994 included in a a 2004 United Nations report, only 3% of girls aged 15 to 19 years were married, divorced or widowed. A more recent survey (2001) put the figure at even lower – 1%.  Muslim women are not permitted to marry non-Muslim men unless they convert; the same does not apply to Muslim men. Beyond this, both women and men are free to choose their marriage partners, although are expected to seek their parents’ permission and advice before marrying, and to respect their wishes in regard to suitable marriage partners.
It is unclear whether it exists in practice. As a result of further reform in 1993, parental authority is now shared between women and men, and the previous stipulation that wives owed obedience to their husbands has been removed. Legally, wives and husbands are expected to manage family life jointly, including the raising of their children, and both contribute to the household expenditures and joint investments. In practice, according to a survey reported by Ben Salem, within the household, labour remains divided according to traditional gender roles, with women undertaking the bulk of domestic work and childcare, and with the majority of respondents (male and female) agreeing that wives should obey their husbands.  In the event of divorce, custody is granted according to the best interests of the child.
However, even if custody is granted to the mother, the father retains legal guardianship over the children, although following the 1993 amendments to the personal status code, although the mother has the right to input into decisions regarding the children. In 1993, the government established a fund to pay subsidies to divorced women whose husbands default on child-support payments.  Repudiation is illegal, and women and men have the same divorce rights in Tunisia, meaning that a divorce can be granted at the request of either spouse. Following a change in the law in 2002, Women have the right to pass Tunisian citizenship onto their children, in the event that the children’s father is not a Tunisian citizen.    Despite the reforms, inequalities remain evident in inheritance rights, which are governed by Sharia law. Under Sharia law, Muslim women may inherit from their father, mother, husband or children and, under certain conditions, from other family members. However, their share is generally smaller than that to which men are entitled. Daughters, for example, inherit only half as much as sons. Contrary to Sharia law, Tunisian law states that if a father has no sons, the inheritance passes to his daughter(s) rather than to his own family.   In addition, following a court ruling in 2009, it is now possible for non-Muslim women to inherit from their Muslim husbands. In practice, Ben Salem reports that in rural areas in particular, women often renounce their inheritance in favour of male relatives, in order to keep land within the family. At the same time, however, some parents get around the inheritance laws by gifting property or assets to daughters before they die; this practice is facilitated by tax exemptions granted on gifts made between parents and their children.
Restricted Physical Integrity
Domestic violence is a criminal offence, following amendments to the penal code made in 1993. Indeed, the bond of marriage is considered to be an aggravating circumstance when violence has been committed against a woman. However, domestic violence is generally viewed as a private issue and the police typically refuse to intervene, often because they lack the training or resources to carry out investigations or protect victims effectively.  In addition, according to a survey reported by Ben Salem, 38.5% of men questioned said they believed that a husband had the right to beat his wife in certain circumstances, indicating that societal acceptance of domestic violence remains prevalent. Women’s rights organisations provide some support to victims, including in a crisis centre and a shelter.  A joint campaign run by the government and women’s rights organisations in 2007 sought to raise public awareness of domestic violence, and a national strategy followed in 2009.  
Rape is illegal under the Tunisian penal code . Government officials have claimed in their replies to Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women that marital rape is illegal under the Criminal Code. Sexual harassment is a criminal offence.  Amendments to the penal code passed in 1993 abolished a previous provision that considered adultery as justifiable grounds for granting pardon to enraged husbands who killed their wives, effectively criminalising ‘honour’ crimes. It is unclear whether such crimes continue to take place.
There is no specific legislation in place banning trafficking, although traffickers can be prosecuted under other laws. While the 2009 report to the CEDAW committee states that ‘human trafficking is not a problem in Tunisia’, it is recognised that Tunisia is a source and destination country for small numbers of women, men, and children trafficked for purposes of forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation. According to the CEDAW report, victims of trafficking are able to access state support, although it is not clear exactly what this support entails.  There are have been no documented cases of female genital mutilation in Tunisia, and it is a criminal offence. Women are able to access contraceptive services in Tunisia, which are available from state-run clinics and hospitals.  According to a 2010 UNFPA report, 60% of women questioned reported using some form of contraception (including so-called ‘traditional’ methods). No data source provided.</ref> Abortion is available on demand in Tunisia. 
Under-five mortality rates are higher for boys than for girls, as are malnutrition rates.)</ref>  There is also no gender-disaggregated data available regarding immunisation rates, but overall, these appear to be very high (96-98%, depending on the vaccine).  Primary and secondary school enrolment rates are slightly higher for girls than for boys (secondary: boys 74%, girls 80%), according to UNICEF, although according to the 2009 African Women’s Report, secondary enrolment rates are in fact slightly lower for girls (boys 69.7%, girls 67.4%).  At tertiary level, female students also outnumber male students.   The figures above would not indicate that Tunisia is a country of concern in regard to son preference in early childhood care or access to education. The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 0.99. There is no evidence to suggest that Tunisia is a country of concern in relation to missing women.
Restricted Resources and Entitlements
Women in Tunisia have equal access to land and access to property other than land. Women are free to own and manage land independently. In practice, though, few women own land, and most property other than land – whether owned or rented – is registered in the husband or father’s name. Amendments to the personal status code in 1993 introduced the idea of the ‘joint estate regime’, whereby within a married couple, spouses are obliged to cooperate with each other and contribute equal resources in regard to the management of the household. The aim of this regime is to ensure that the spouses have joint ownership of property specifically intended for the household’s own use. Couples also have the right to opt for the equal division of all property acquired during the duration of the marriage. Legally, women also have equal access to bank loans and can enter into business and financial contracts independently. The Ministry of Agriculture has a specific unit in place to provide rural women with targeted advice and support, and women are also able to access micro credit facilities.  This would indicate that other forms of credit are less forthcoming for women. However, it appears that women are increasingly entering into entrepreneurship, as it is reported that women are heading around 18,000 corporations.
Restricted Civil Liberties
There are no legal restrictions on women’s freedom of movement, and they do not need permission to obtain a passport or travel.  But on a day-to-day basis, the close association made between women’s behaviour and family ‘honour’ means that women’s freedom of movement may be restricted by husbands and male relatives. 
Freedom of expression, association and assembly have in recent years were heavily restricted in Tunisia, under Ben Ali.  That said, according to Ben Salem, the media have addressed issues relating to gender inequality and women’s rights, such as discrimination in the workplace and domestic violence. Women’s rights organisations, along with all other civil society groups, faced restrictions on their activities under the regime of recently ousted president Ben Ali. It appears that the media and civil society landscape is in the process of opening up considerably, following the fall of Ben Ali. Women and men have the same right to vote and stand for election in Tunisia.  Prior to the 2009 elections, the ruling party and main opposition parties all introduced gender quotas to increase the number of women candidates (of 30% in the case of the ruling party). As of the end of 2010 (i.e. before the ouster of President Ben Ali), there were 59 women in the lower Chamber of Deputies (out of 214 – 27.6%), and 17 women in the upper Chamber of Councillors (out of 126 – 15.2%). In the post-Ben Ali elections it was ruled that women and men had to feature as equal numbers as candidates in the July 2011 elections, a first for the region. Women’s rights groups are active in Tunisia on a range of issues, including raising awareness of violence against women and providing support to victims, and campaigning for changes to the inheritance laws.
Pregnant women in Tunisia are entitled to 30 days’ paid maternity leave. Under the labour code, women and men have the same right to work, and discrimination on the basis of gender is banned in regard to employment and pay. Following the amendments made to the labour code in 1993, a married woman no longer needs permission from her husband in order to be able to work. However, women are still prohibited from working at night, apart from in certain circumstances. The past 30 years have seen a significant shift in women’s employment patterns, away from agricultural labour and into wage labour in the manufacturing sector. That said, overall, women’s participation in the labour force remains low, and women’s wages are consistently lower than men’s at all levels.  Same-sex relationships are illegal for women and men in Tunisia.
- Ben Salem, Lilia (2010) ‘Tunisia’ in Sanja Kelly and Julia Breslin, eds., (2010) Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, New York, NY: Freedom House; Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield
- Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (2010) World Factbook: Tunisia, online edition, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ts.html (accessed 11 March 2011)
- World Bank (n.d.) Data: Tunisia, http://data.worldbank.org/country/tunisia (accessed 23 March 2011)
- Beardsley, Eleanor (2011) ‘In Tunisia, Women Play Equal Role In Revolution’, National Public Radio, 27 January 2011, http://www.npr.org/2011/01/27/133248219/in-tunisia-women-play-equal-role-in-revolution (accessed 14 March 2011)
- See BBC n.d. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-14107241
- Freedom House (2010) Freedom in the World Country Reports: Tunisia, online edition, http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=363&year=2010&country=7936 (accessed 11 March 2011)
- UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) (2009) African Women’s Report 2009: Measuring Gender Inequality in Africa:Experiences and Lessons from the African Gender and Development Index, Addis Ababa: UNECA. http://www.unUNECA.org/UNECA_resources/publications/books/awr/AWR09_FIN.pdf (accessed 15 October 2010),
- Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), International Land Coalition(ILC) (2004), ‘Rural Women’s Access to Land and Property in Selected Countries: Progress Towards Achieving the Aims of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women’, FAO Gender and Population Division, IFAD Technical Advisory Division, and ILC, Rome. http://www.landcoalition.org/pdf/cedawrpt.pdf (accessed 4 December 2010)
- Rashad, Hoda, Magued Osman, and Farzaneh Roudi-Fahimi (2005), Marriage in the Arab World, PRB (Population Reference Bureau), Washington DC. Available at http://www.prb.org/pdf05/MarriageInArabWorld_Eng.pdf (accessed 3 March 2011)
- United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTC) (n.d): Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, countries ratified. - CEDAW: http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-8&chapter=4&lang=en (accessed 10 February 2011); - Optional Protocol: http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-8-b&chapter=4&lang=en (accessed 10 February 2011)
- ) African Union (2010) ‘List of countries which have signed, ratified/acceded to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa’ (as of 27 August 2010). http://www.africa-union.org/root/au/Documents/Treaties/List/Protocol%20on%20the%20Rights%20of%20Women.pdf (accessed 15 October 2010).
- United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2011_EN_Complete.pdf, accessed 29 February 2012.
- World Economic Forum (2011) The Global Gender Gap Report 2011, available at http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GenderGap_Report_2011.pdf, accessed 2 March 2012.
- Committee on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (2009) ‘Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women Combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of States parties Tunisia’, CEDAW/C/TUN/6, CEDAW, New York
- United Nations (2004), World Fertility Report 2003, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York, NY, p.347
- The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) (2005) ‘Islam, land & property research series’, Paper 6: Islamic inheritance laws and systems, Nairobi, Kenya. Available at www.unhabitat.org/downloads/docs/3546_3490_ILP%206.doc (accessed 10 February 2011)
- US Department of State (2010) ‘2009 Country Reports on Human Rights: Tunisia’, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/nea/136081.htm (accessed 11 March 2011)
- United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) (2010) State of the World’s Population 2010. From conflict and crisis to renewal: generations of change, UNFPA, New York
- United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (2007)’World abortion policies’, data downloaded from http://www.devinfo.info/genderinfo/ (accessed 21 October 2010).
- UNICEF (2007) State of the World’s Children : the Double Dividend of Gender Equality, New York: UNICEF http://www.unicef.org/sowc07/docs/sowc07.pdf
- CEDAW (2010) UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against women (2010), “Summary record of the 949th meeting”, CEDAW/C/SR.949, http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G10/455/79/PDF/G1045579.pdf?OpenElement para 4
- Amnesty International (2010) Amnesty International Report 2009, State of the World’s Human Rights, London: Amnesty International. http://thereport.amnesty.org/sites/default/files/AIR2010_EN.pdf (accessed 8 November 2010),
- Inter-Parliamentary Union (n.d.-a) ‘TUNISIA: Majlis Al-Nuwab (Chamber of Deputies)’, http://www.ipu.org/parline-e/reports/2321_A.htm (accessed 11 March 2011); Inter-Parliamentary Union (n.d.-b) ‘TUNISIA: Majlis al-Mustasharin (Chamber of Councillors)’, http://www.ipu.org/parline-e/reports/2322_A.htm (accessed 11 March 2011)
- International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009) Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/travail/travmain.home (accessed 11 March 2011)
- International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), (n.d.), country profile: Tunisia, http://ilga.org/ilga/en/countries/TUNISIA/Articles (accessed 11 March 2011)
The Africa for Women's Rights Campaign
- CEDAW: ratified in 1985 with a general declaration and reservations to articles 9(2), 16 and 15(4)
- CEDAW Protocol: ratified in 2008
- Maputo Protocol: not signed, not ratified
On 8 March 2009 the "Africa for Women's Rights" Campaign was launched at the initiative of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in collaboration with fove non-governmental regional organisations: the African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies(ACDHRS), Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS), Women’s Aid Collective (WACOL), Women in Law and Development in Africa (WILDAF) and Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA). These organisations make up the Steering Committee responsible for the coordination of the Campaign.
The Campaign aims to put an end to discrimination and violence against women in Africa, calling on states to ratify international and regional instruments protecting women's rights, to repeal all discriminatory laws, to adopt laws protecting the rights of women and to take all necessary measures to wensure their effective implementation.
Country Focus: Tunisia
Although Tunisia has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), it entered a general declaration stating that only those provisions that are consistent with the Tunisian Constitution will be applied. Tunisia also entered reservations to the following articles: art. 9(2) concerning transmission of nationality; art. 16 concerning marriage and inheritance; and art. 15(4) concerning the choice of residence. The Coalition of the Campaign underlines that these reservations violate international law in that they are incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention.
The Coalition of the Campaign also regrets that Tunisia has not ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol).
The Coalition is particularly concerned by the following continued violations of women’s rights in Tunisia: the unequal status of the woman in the family and marriage; limited access to inheritance, higher education and political and public life; and insufficient access to and implementation of laws on violence and sexual harassment at the workplace.
- Focal Points: ATFD, LTDH
- CEDAW Committee recommandations, June 2002
- Juriste Tunisie
The Women, Business and the Law
Where are laws equal for men and women?
The Women, Business and the Law report presents indicators based on laws and regulations affecting women's prospects as entrepreneurs and employees. Several of these indicators draw on the Gender Law Library, a collection of over 2,000 legal provisions impacting women's economic status. This report does not seek to judge or rank countries, but to provide information to inform discussions about women’s economic rights. Women, Business and the Law provides data covering 6 areas: accessing institutions,using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, and going to court.Read more about the methodology.
For detailed information on Tunisia, please visit the Women, Business and
the Law Tunisia page.
In the press
- 10 September 2011: Tunisia is leading the way on women's rights in the Middle East (Guardian.co.uk)
Tunisia is the first country in the region to withdraw reservations regarding CEDAW
- 13 April 2011: Tunisia to impose parity in electoral lists (in Spanish)
- 12 April 2011: Gender parity on electoral lists was adopted by the High Committee for the achievement of the revolution’s goals, political reform and democratic transition: a first in the Arab and Muslim world. Read more: Le "peuple" a choisi "sa" démocratie : 50% de femmes, 0% de RCDistes