Protesters shout slogans during a rally, demanding equal inheritance rights for women, in Tunis, Tunisia August 13, 2018. photo rights reserved to REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

Inheritance equality for women in Tunisia: A step forward to end the patriarchal community

Since 1956, Tunisia has been at the forefront of Arab-Muslim countries in the field of women’s rights.

With the adoption of the “personal status code”, August 13, 1956, abolishing polygamy, strengthening the position of women in the Tunisian community … But not touching to equality in inheritance case.71 years later , total equality between women and men is not yet reached.

Equality in inheritance is a key question in the history of Tunisia because, in view of the active participation of women in all areas of the country’s social and economic life, taking into account also the progress made and achieved in the field of equality between men and women, but especially since 2014’s Constitution, equality has become a requirement that can no longer be deferred

Since 2017’s summer , the momentum for the rights of Tunisian women seems to be revived. In January, a law against violence against women, passed six months earlier, came into force, broadening the scope of offenses considerably: Moral violence, economic exploitation or harassment is now subject to the law.

The condition of parity included in the electoral code has, moreover, forced the political parties to seek many women for the last municipal elections of 2018, including as top of the list.

And since September, Tunisian women are free to marry non-Muslims, after the repeal of circulars deemed discriminatory by the Minister of Justice.

Rights related to inheritance, which regulate the transmission of goods to one or more heirs on the death of the owner, constitute an important stake for the equality between women and men, Created on August 13, 2017, by the president of the republic, COLIBE, the Committee on Liberties and equality, had for mission to contribute to the state of freedoms and equality in Tunisia through the preparation of a draft reform and law in accordance with the requirements of the 2014 Constitution and international human rights standards. The bill should be presented to the tunisian parliament members at the end of the parliamentary recess october 2018.

The report, submitted in June 2018, was enough to cough up the most conservative fringes of the Tunisian society: abolition of the death penalty, decriminalization of homosexuality, end of the period of empowiness imposed on divorced or widowed women … But it is especially the proposal to introduce equality between men and women in inheritance — a red line in many Muslim countries — that has raised the most heated debates.

The current law, which is based on Islamic law, provides that, as a rule, a man inherits the double of a woman of the same degree of kinship. To spare political and religious sensibilities, the bill that should be tabled at the assembly of representatives of the people considers the equality in inheritance as the rule but still leaves the choice to the legatee to specify before usher-notary if he intends to distribute his property according to the traditional two-thirds rule.

The question of inheritance is today distorted. From a purely social problematic, it has been transformed into a religious problem. Inheritance is in principle a social question, because it is first and foremost the distribution of wealth within the family. It is obvious that this is related to the socio-economic conditions of each period of history

COLIBE believes that “Islam has responded to the call of justice and equity with the aim of achieving absolute equality between men and women in their rights and obligations”, while mentioning three verses from the Koran which “ensure the existence of an existential and substantial equality between the two sexes”.

Equality between men and women, today, is an application of the precepts of the Koran, at a time when new social equilibrium has emerged as a result of radical changes affecting all aspects of life. And that Islam “cannot be understood outside of its historical context”, hence the importance of the concept of ijtihad, which “adapts the precepts of Islam to lived reality”.

The question of inheritance which is at the heart of the struggle for an egalitarian Tunisia, which intends to bring the laws into conformity with the Constitution which affirms equality between citizens in its article 46 which sets out equality between men and women in all areas, and the law on violence against women adopted on 26 July 2017 by the Assembly of People’s Representatives speaks of economic violence and violence against women. depriving the woman of her right to have half of her parents’ inheritance just as her brother is a form of economic exploitation sanctioned by the law, so this constitution which made Tunisia in its article 2, a civil state, based on citizenship, the popular will and the rule of law.

Although many international texts recall that men and women should enjoy the same rights of succession (including the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, the Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality. These international texts, which Tunisia has adopted, put Tunisia in a position of improving and securing women’s economic, social and political rights.

It is essential for Tunisian society to recognize that the important progress made with regard to women’s equality is however insufficient. The challenges are changing, so are the needs. What Tunisia has accomplished in terms of equality measures its ability to move forward. Equality, key to thinking about the development of Tunisia, brings lasting transformations for the whole of society. This paradigm shift involved in a more societal and systemic approach to equality requires a significant shift. The role of the state is central to equality, both in terms of the directions and plans of action that fall within its direct sphere of competence and with regard to the measures that society could encourage.