Saturday, March 10, was a big day in Tunisian women’s history. Hundreds of Tunisians gathered to march for equality in inheritance, among them political figures, former government ministers, and leaders of parties.
Tunisia has always been a pioneering country when it comes to women’s rights and gender equality. Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s first president, promulgated The Code of Personal Status (CPS) in 1956. The laws aim to ensure gender equality in many areas, such as mutual consent in marriage, the abolition of polygamy, and the right for women to divorce. The CPS is considered a revolutionary piece of legislation in the Arab-Muslim world, up to the present day. Yet the laws are not without their limits; one of them is the discriminatory inheritance law, which stipulates that men are entitled to twice as much as women.
Tunisian feminists have been trying since 2011 to amend this law. “However, the Tunisian government and national assembly turned a deaf ear to them,” according to one march organizer. Tunisian women knew that if they don’t stand up for their rights, no one will. So they decided to take immediate action and organized a national march for equality in inheritance.
Teen Vogue spoke to Saloua Guiga, one of the march’s organizers, about this initiative. An activist with a great deal of experience, Saloua is a teacher and pedagogical advisor. She’s one of the founders of the Equality and Parity organization, which is part of the Coalition for Tunisian Women, the group that organized the March 10 march.
“I was among the first people who thought about organizing a national feminist mobilization, to claim equality in inheritance,” Saloua tells Teen Vogue. “Along with my friend Emna Ben Milad, we started drawing up a strategy to contact different national organizations and feminist figures.” She explained that the group ultimately comprised 73 different organizations who “united to claim our right and participate in this national march.” Their path began at Bab Saadoun and led to the Place of Bardo, which is where the Assembly of the Representatives of the People (ARP), Tunisia’s legislature, is located.
Last August, when Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi called for inheritance equality between men and women on Tunisian Women’s Day, public opinion was polarized between those who support the amendment of this law and those who refused with vigor. Many of those who opposed the law did so on the pretense that it’s a Sharia law and Allah’s saying, and therefore is unchangeable. Saloua explains that the Tunisian government’s non-establishment of equal inheritance has been pushed by politicians who only want to serve their own economic interests, rather than protecting women’s rights from the obscurantism of radical Islamists.
“The Tunisian government didn’t grant Tunisian women equal inheritance because of the conservatives’ constant pressure and Islamism that came to power after the Tunisian revolution in 2011,” says Saloua. “Besides, equality in inheritance, and gender equality in general, don’t serve the material interests of those in power, especially men.”
“Sadly, despite Tunisia’s progressive nature and advances in legislation, there’s still a patriarchal mentality and a male-dominated society that perceives women as inferior to men,” Saloua adds. “It’s clear that mindsets are different in the Tunisian society: there are progressive people, conservatives, and retrograde Islamists.”
Inheritance can be a taboo subject in the Arab World. Saloua points to the spread of Islamism in Tunisian society as a reason why so many people want to uphold the law. She also says that some women who reject equality are influenced by radical mosques and Koranic schools that influence them with their demagogic discourse, which espouses women’s submission to men.
That’s why this national women’s march was heavily denigrated on the official Facebook page for the event. Moreover, the march’s organizers had a hard time convincing Tunisian media to cover their efforts, due to this ideological barrier.
Still, hundreds of people showed up for the march that took place on March 10.
“We marched in joy, with the drums’ beat,” Saloua says. “At the end of the march, there was a musical concert and we marchers sang different songs in different languages to show that our Tunisian identity respects universal values.”
“Now, and especially after the Tunisian revolution, women are aware of their rights more than ever,” says Saloua. She adds, “Women’s rights are inseparable from human rights and democratic principles. Equality can’t be partial. Women can’t be equal to men only in some fields. Either there is full equality or there is none.”