By Houda Trabelsi
By Houda Trabelsi
Tunis, November 19, 2011
Comments by Ennahda candidate Souad Abderrahim stirred a public outcry when she said that single mothers were “a disgrace to Tunisian society”.
In an interview aired November 9th on Monte Carlo Doualiya radio station, the head of Ennahda’s list in Tunis said that single mothers should not benefit from state protection and “do not have the right to exist”.
She debated the issue with Nadia Chaabane, head of the Modernist Democratic Pole (PDM), and Bochra Bel Haj Hmida, of Ettakatol. Abderrahim said that only raped women should be protected by the state.
“I am ashamed of Arab and Muslim countries that try to make excuses for people who have sinned,” she added, arguing that in a Muslim society a family “must not be formed outside the bonds of marriage”.
The statements riled bloggers and activists, many of whom suggested that such comments cast doubts over Ennahda’s true agenda. Though the Islamist party has professed commitment to democracy and women’s rights, many critics remain skeptical.
“We believe this is an indication that Ennahda has plans to attack minorities in Tunisia,” commented blogger and Nobel Prize nominee Lina Ben Mhenni. “More importantly, how can she refuse to provide protection for women while she is a woman herself and is supposed to be closer to them and feel their problems?”
“She rejects the principle of legal protection for single mothers, and goes beyond this to even incriminate them, and she will, of course, cite a Qur’anic text,” Ben Mhenni added.
She added, “Why should there be such embarrassment when this phenomenon is real and existing in Tunisian society? There is no embarrassment in religion, right? How can a representative in the Constituent Assembly oppress a category that does exist in society with such an offensive statement…?”
According to Mohammed Shokri Miadi, the state should enact laws to “prevent women from falling victims to financial, social and sexual needs” and protect them “from selling their own bodies”.
“I don’t encourage births outside the bonds of marriage,” said Rania Klai. “However, most of the cases of single mothers are the result of rape and sexual harassment, and the victims keep silent about them for fear of scandal. If we deny her a law that would protect her and her baby, she may be forced to kill her baby and then commit suicide.”
“Even if we put this analysis aside and acknowledge that the birth will take place, what is the guilt of the baby to deny it the simplest rights of care and protection?” she wondered. “I hope that we won’t see babies thrown away in plastic bags in the rubbish or public roads.”
Mouna Habib had a different opinion. She commented that it is “shameful” for modernists to “defend the woman who voluntarily wants to give birth to a baby outside the bonds of marriage”.
“Not only this, they even want to protect her with a law, a monthly salary and housing although there are a lot of Tunisians in remote areas who die of poverty,” she said.
“All those who support the decision of those who went astray are indirectly encouraging people to make mistakes and go astray,” Souad Makayda told Magharebia. “We want reform, and we want a society where moral decency prevails.”
Many observers say that the nomination of Abderrahim, an unveiled and educated woman, at the head of Ennahda’s list in Tunis was meant to reassure critics that the Islamist party would not roll back women’s rights.