Tunisian President Calls for a Secular End to the Story of Gender Inequality
Amidst presidential election campaigns in Tunisia, current president, Beji Caed Essibsi, has called for equality between men and women in all fields, including those of heritage and marriage. To say Essibsi’s proposal has caused a media frenzy would be an understatement.
Last Sunday, on Tunisia’s National Women’s Day, the Tunisian president called the Minister of Justice to reconsider Publication No. 73 of Tunisian law; this publication bans Tunisian Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims.
According to Islamic scripture, marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men are prohibited. That being said, both sexes are equally forbidden -in the Holy Quran- from marrying someone who professes ‘no religion’, i.e. a man being able to marry a ‘non-Muslim’ refers to a man being able to marry a woman who specifically professes a Jewish or Christian faith. Since most marital laws in most Arab countries are structured around religion, a Muslim woman marrying a non-Muslim man (i.e. Christian or Jewish) is illegal.
This proposal, thus, came as a shock to the Tunisian Islamic community, and to most Arab speaking Muslim peoples. The president justified the new law, by placing it within a much larger context of the state’s responsibility towards ensuring full equality between men and women. “We will not go through reforms that may come as shocking to the feelings of the people – who are majorly Muslim – but we are moving towards equality in all fields,” Essibsi stated.
The Tunisian president also proposed an end to religious-based inheritance laws. According to Islamic scripture, if a father were to leave an inheritance to his children, then his sons would receive twice as much in share, as his daughters would.
In most Arab countries, these Quarnic-based rules are what inform the ways in which inheritance is legally divided among family members. The Tunisian president added that these aforementioned laws should be changed, so as to ensure that inheritance is shared equally between females and males.
It is unclear, however, whether or not the legal changes will encompass the approximately 20 something other cases where female family members -both religiously and therefore legally- receive a larger share of a given inheritance, than their male counterparts.