The bill, expected come into practice next year, was welcomed by rights groups.
The new law defines violence against women as “any physical, moral, sexual or economic aggression” against women based on discrimination between the two sexes. It is also based on key elements from the definition of domestic violence recommended in the United Nation Handbook for Legislation against Women.
It will recognise violence against women in the family and in public spaces, adopting comprehensive approaches to fight this issue, such as preventative measures, specialised police and prosecution units, and judicial services for victims of violence.
This is a great step forward for women’s rights. Indeed, before the bill was approved, the nation had no specific legislation on domestic violence. Still, Tunisia is most of the time accounted as a pioneer of women’s rights in the Arab world, contrasting with Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, where a woman was arrested for wearing a miniskirt and a crop top, as well as showing her hair, in a historic village north of the capital last month.
Yet, rights groups in Tunisia argue that women are still discriminated. This is backed by the National Family Office 2010 survey who found that at least 47 percent of Tunisian women have experienced domestic violence in their lives.
“All of this represents a revolution in the legal system and also a revolution in the mentality because usually the violence against women that takes place inside the house is considered something private and something for the family to deal with,” said Amna Guellali, director of Tunisia office for Human Rights Watch.
However, according to Guellali, Tunisia will require international funding assistance to implement this determined and progressive law. An HRW statement added: “The law also does not set out provisions for the government to provide women with timely financial assistance to meet their needs or assistance in finding long-term accommodation. The law, in sum, does not stipulate how the state will fund the programs and policies it brings into being.”
Nevertheless, the law will set a precedent in the Middle Eastern region and could be soon followed by others. While Morocco is debating a law on domestic violence against women as well, Algeria has already adopted a law criminalising all violence against women last year. Unfortunately the Algerian legislation was poorly drafted and is below the required standard.
Even if those small advancements are positives, it must not be forgotten that in too many countries women have nearly no rights. For example, in Saudi Arabia they are considered as second-class citizens, unable to drive or travel without a male guardian or to choose what to wear, and Bangladesh recently took a devastating step backwards in the fight against child marriage with a new bill reducing minimum marital age to zero.