« I hope Tunisia will remain at the forefront of the Arab world as regards women rights » INTERVIEW – FEMINA MAGAZINE (MARCH 2014)

Farah Hached: « I hope Tunisia will remain at the forefront of the Arab world as regards women rights ». Interview by Mouna Izdine (Femina Magazine)

The original version of the interview in French here.

What is your opinion about the evolution of Tunisian women status since the revolution?

Since the fall of the dictatorship, Tunisian women status has experienced, from a legal perspective, a priori positive l development. The new Constitution enshrines especially two significant breakthroughs:

1)     the guarantee of women’s representation in elected assemblies, and
2)     the protection, strengthening and development of women’s acquired rights.

However, will such breakthroughs be able to balance other constitutional provisions, which are more critical for women’s rights? Will the provisions referring to Islam as a State religion be an obstacle for the progress of women’s rights, such as the progress concerning the right of Muslim Tunisian woman to get married in Tunisia to a non Muslim man or the right for a non Muslim woman to inherit from her husband like a Muslim woman?

I would have preferred less vague provisions. I would have preferred the Constitution clearly stated that no one shall be discriminated on the ground of gender. This would have reduced the scope of interpretation, which varies according to the fashion of the day and the mind set of those in charge with interpreting the laws, i.e. the courts.

Empowerment of women is an important condition for the development of Tunisia. After the independence, Tunisia was in the forefront of the Arab world a regards women’s right. I wish it will remain so in the future.

Shall we say the Tunisian women “remained on watch” and that is what maintained their acquired rights inherited during Bourguiba era? 

Yes, I think so. Yet during Bourguiba era, women used to actively participate to their own empowerment. In my opinion, Tunisian women promoted and contributed to the consolidation of the laws established by Bourguiba. They have never stopped struggling for the development of such laws.
Since 2011, women have remained as vigilant as true watch-keepers for the preservation of their rights.

I need here to pay also tribute to the continuous support of numerous Tunisian men, convinced that the development of our country involves the equality between men and women.

According to the Tunisian experience, shall we state that political islam complies with the development of women’s rights?

It depends on how we define “political islam”. The expression “political islam” could have many definitions and there are many political currents which refer to Islam.

If an islamist party defends sincerely democracy, including a non religious State and equality between citizens, then there is no conflict with women’s rights progress. However, supporting democracy, a non religious State and the equality in rights shall be true and not a simple speech hiding other objectives tending to breach women’s freedom and citizens’ freedom in general.

Political islam issue raises questions about the notion of citizenship. What does it mean to be a citizen in 2014? If political islam aims to create different categories of citizens, with fundamentally different rights, with a kind of hierarchy between citizens based on gender or religion, then there will be a clear conflict with the concept of a national and democratic State. Therefore, it depends on the vision promoted by each current claiming its belonging to political islam.

In your opinion, how could we reach a better gender parity in the Tunisian power structures?

Personally, I qualify myself as post-feminist, which means that I consider equality of rights between men and women as natural. In this line of thoughts, I was during a long time against forced gender parity.  Affirmative action seemed to me in conflict with the idea of equality. Women should not be represented in power structures on the grounds of gender. This is sexism.

However, in countries like Tunisia, the gap between men and women is big. Empowerment of women, although started 60 years ago, is still at its early stage and the path onward is still quite long. Consequently, in the case of Tunisia and other Arab countries, I am not against a temporary affirmative action to enhance representation of women in power and decision-making structures.

Tunisia made this choice for the 23rd of October 2011 elections and this permitted to many female figures, from all of the political sides, to appear on the media scene and demonstrate that Tunisian women, as Tunisian men, are able to defend a political project.

There is a good chance the gender parity system will be applied again for the upcoming elections. I hope so.

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