Equal or Complementary? Women in the New Tunisian Constitution After the Arab Spring

  • Citation: Charrad, Mounira M., and Amina Zarrugh. “Equal or Complementary? Women in the New Tunisian Constitution after the Arab Spring.” The Journal of North African Studies 19, no. 2 (2014): 230–43.
    • Topics:
    • Country and Regional Studies
    • Keywords:
    • public sphere
    • civil society
    • gender
    • constitution
    • protest

The Arab Spring has inaugurated a new form of politics that represents a shift from a ‘politics from above’ to a ‘politics from below’ in regard to gender policy in Tunisia. Discourse surrounding state policy on gender, formerly the purview of elite groups, has recently been shaped and driven by popular organisations and associations. This article draws on Habermas to argue that the shift has been facilitated by the emergence of a new public sphere and engaged civil society following the fall of the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime in 2011. To demonstrate the emergence and diversity of Tunisian civil society, we focus on the promulgation of a new constitution and the debate surrounding Article 28, which has been contested by some Tunisians as reducing women’s status to ‘complementary’. A discussion of women’s status in the history of Tunisian family law, especially in the popularly valorised Code of Personal Status, illustrates how women’s rights were historically expanded as a top-down policy or ‘politics from above’. We juxtapose this historical context with the present period of transition and constitution writing since 2011. An examination of quotations from Tunisian women, both opponents and supporters of Article 28, demonstrates the shift in Tunisia from a ‘politics from above’ to a ‘politics from below’ as women’s groups are making demands upon the state and voicing their concerns in ways that have profoundly influenced the tenor of debates around gender politics in the country.

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