Rabat – Tunisia has overturned a decades-old law banning Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims, one of the last measures stemming from Islamic law seen by Tunisian citizen as contrary to the principle of gender equality.
The fight for women’s rights in Tunisia is bearing fruit. Tunisian Justice Minister Ghazi Jeribi signed on Thursday a measure cancelling a provision dating back to Nov. 5, 1973 which prevented Tunisian women from marrying non-Muslim men.
A spokeswoman for President Beji Caid Essebsi made the announcement and congratulated women on gaining “the freedom to choose one’s spouse.”
On Aug. 13, during celebrations of the National Women’s day, President Essebsi announced in a speech that he had filed a demand to the government demanding the repeal of the provision, after many civil organizations launched these last months a campaign to revoke the law and filed a suit at the administrative court to repeal the provision.
The head of state said that the marriage law was “an obstacle to the freedom of choice of the spouse,” launching a debate on the sensitive issue of gender equality in inheritance, saying that Tunisia was moving inexorably towards equality “in all areas.”
Human rights activists, including the Collective for Individual Freedoms, wrote in a statement that the 1973 law is one of many that are “discriminatory and contrary to the Constitution,” which stipulates equality between men and women, and that violate “the fundamental right of every human being to choose their spouse.”
Until now, a non-Muslim man who wished to marry a Tunisian Muslim woman had to convert to Islam and submit a certificate of his conversion as proof. Some have succeeded, after legal battles, to have their marriage recognized without this document, according to a lawyer active in this field.
Tunisia, which is 99 percent Muslim, is viewed as one of the most progressive Arab countries in terms of women’s rights. But while the North African country is considered to be a pioneer in the this regard, women continue to inherit half of what men have inherited, in according with the Qur’an.
The office of the Mufti of the republic has backed the president’s women’s rights initiative, but the highest authority of Sunni Islam, Al Azhar, has spoken against it, in particular regarding inheritance legislation.