Will Tunisia’s new constitution protect women’s human rights?

Across the Middle East and North Africa, the ousting of dictators has given way to the messy challenges of creating new governments and writing new rules.  Tunisia was the first country in the ongoing wave of protests where protestors pushed a repressive ruler out of power.  Now, an elected body is drafting a new constitution for the nation.

But there are troubling signs that the draft language for the Tunisian constitution does not adequately protect women’s human rights.  You can help at this critical moment by signing this important Amnesty International statement to the Tunisian government.

In September, Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly (NCA) will hold final discussions on draft constitutional language that has been prepared by its committees.  That’s why the coming days are so important.  The NCA had been elected in October of 2011 to write Tunisia’s post-dictatorship constitution.

As my Amnesty International colleagues in London have stated:

Amnesty International is calling on the NCA to ensure that the constitution includes the basic guarantees that would protect Tunisians from the abuses they suffered in the past … Under [past dictator] Ben Ali, the constitution lost its power to protect people against human rights violations, and instead the authorities passed new laws which repressed Tunisians even more…While the rights of women were trumpeted by Ben Ali , in reality discrimination remained entrenched in law and in practice.

With regards to women’s rights, my colleagues have noted troubling developments in Tunisia’s constitution drafting process:  “Recent proposals within the NCA that describe women as partners to men and their complementary role in the family are a threat to women’s rights and gender equality in Tunisia.”

It is troubling to learn of such developments in the aftermath of the very freedom movements that women have played such a significant role in.  From Tunisia’s streets to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, women put their lives at risk in order to demand their rights and better governments for all.

In 2011, the Nobel Peace Prize committee recognized as much when it included Yemeni woman Tawakkol Karman among the three prominent women who received its award.  In receiving her award, Ms. Karman dedicated her prize to “all of the youth and all of the women across the Arab world, in Egypt, in Tunisia.”

As new decisionmakers draft rules for new governments, we must do our part to make sure that women’s fundamental rights are enshrined in law.  Current and future generations will be profoundly affected by the decisions that are being made today.

You can help push the outcome in the right direction.

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