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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Tunisia to legislate for gender equality in inheritance

President Beji Caid Essebsi is breaking away from the Islamic ruling that attributes twice the share to male descendants

Women at a demonstration to mark Tunisia's Women's Day and to demand equal inheritance rights between men and women.Fethi Belaid / AFP
Women at a demonstration to mark Tunisia's Women's Day and to demand equal inheritance rights between men and women.Fethi Belaid / AFP

Tunisia’s president Beji Caid Essebsi on Monday said he would push for a new law to ensure equality in inheritance between men and women, breaking away from the Islamic ruling that attributes twice the share to male descendants.

In a speech on Tunisian Women’s Day, Mr Essebsi said that “equality of inheritance should become law”.

Tunisia is currently governed by a coalition of moderate Islamists and secular forces which agreed in 2014 on a constitution that granted far-reaching political rights.

Thousands of women and men rallied in central Tunis following the speech to show support for the reform. Racha Haffar, founder and president of the of the anti-human trafficking Not 4 Trade NGO, said “rights are not a favour” and that Tunisian women like her had taken to the streets to reclaim what is rightfully theirs.

“It was great to see so many people in the country who want freedom and equality,” Ms Haffar told The National. But divisions still split the country.

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On August 11, thousands of Tunisians demonstrated in front of parliament against any changes to inheritance rules. In the face of the opposition from conservatives, Mr Essebsi left the door open for some exceptions, saying families who wished to continue the allocation based on Islamic law would be able to do so.

Human Rights Watch urged the Tunisian president to adopt the proposed legislative reform. Amna Guellali, Tunisia director at Human Rights Watch, said the reform “is truly momentous".

She said: "President Beji Caid Essebsi should seize this opportunity to introduce legislation that would make the human rights advances recommended by his commission the law of the land.”

The reform was recommended in June by the Commission on Individual Freedoms and Equality, jointly to decriminalise homosexuality and to abolish the death penalty.

Mr Essebsi created the commission on August 13, 2017 – on the occasion of National Women’s Day – with the scope of proposing reforms linked to individual freedoms and equality.

In September 2017, a separate bill lifted a ban that had prevented Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims since 1973.

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