The Women’s Movement in Tunisia: From the Formation of the Islamic Approach to the Emergence of the Secularist Approach (1881-1956 AD)

  • Citation: Mirzaei, Zahra, and Davood Ahmadi. “Women's Movement in Tunisia: From the Formation of the Islamic Approach to the Emergence of the Secularist Perspective (1881-1956).” Journal of History of Islam and Iran, 2021.
    • Topics:
    • Regional Studies
    • Keywords:
    • Tunisia
    • modernity
    • women's movement
    • modernists
    • traditionalists

Tunisia, like other Islamic societies, became acquainted with modernity in the nineteenth century. The arrival of modernity in Tunisia paved the way for extensive political, administrative, military, cultural, and educational developments. Despite these developments, until the early twentieth century, Tunisian modernist rulers and thinkers did not consider women’s rights and the reform of their social status. From the first decades of the twentieth century, coinciding with the arrival of French colonization (1881-1956), women and their rights were considered. During this period, the current religious reform spread throughout the Arab Maghreb and Tunisia and gave rise to the current of Islamic modernization. Thus, for the first time, the issue of women’s rights was raised by modernists such as Tahir al-Haddad. He was a graduate of Zaytouna Mosque. They defended women and their social rights with an Islamic approach. With new interpretations of religious texts, they put religious concepts at the service of the feminist movement. they challenged issues such as hijab, women’s education and employment, polygamy, and the right to divorce. The people and some traditionalist scholars met this issue with an adverse reaction. The main subject of the present study is what factors led to the evolution of the status of women and the formation of women’s advocacy movements during the colonial period? And what were the consequences of these developments? Findings show that factors such as the arrival of modernity in Tunisia, the role of colonialism, the support of Islamic modernists for women’s rights, and the formation of unions had an influential role in improving the social status of women. Social and political activities were among the essential consequences of the reforms. These reforms paved the way for further broader developments, namely government support for feminism and the emergence of a secular women’s movement during Tunisia’s independence.

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