By Chris Zumani Zimba
On 13th August, 2018, the President of Tunisia, Beji Caid Essebsi proposed giving women equal inheritance rights despite objections and protests from thousands of people resisting changes as a secular challenge to conservative Islamic law. “I propose equality inheritance to become law,” President Essebsi announced in an official speech. Going forward, the parliament will debate and decide on the bill. The current system is based on Islamic law which typically allows men to inherit double what a woman would receive. This is how and why the announcement by President Essebsi is both correct and commendable.
Whether gender exploitative and oppressive practices between men and women are committed in the name of tradition, Islam, Christianity or family tradition, it is important to strongly discourage and condemn them if human rights and gender equality is to be won. This is more crucial around Africa and Asia where many girls and women are still enslaved victims of ‘culturally privileged’ boys and men and thereby undermining collective efforts to fight and eradicate HIV, SGBV in the form of Child Marriages, forced spouse inheritance, sexual cleansing, incest, defilement, rape, human trafficking and child exploitation or labour.
While in 2014 the country policy makers agreed on a new constitution granting far-reaching political rights and limiting the role of religion as well as holding free periodic elections, one of the few areas where the Islamists have resisted change is the inheritance law. The North African Muslim country, which toppled autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, grants women more rights than other countries in the region, and since last year has allowed Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men. Despite economic challenges with high unemployment rates driving many young who had joined the uprising abroad, Tunisia is still being hailed as the “only Arab spring” success story. Tunisia is ruled by a coalition of moderate Islamists and secular forces which have been managing its democratic transition since 2011, avoiding the upheaval seen in Egypt, Libya or Syria.
Chris Zumani Zimba is a Political Scientist, Author, PhD Scholar, Lecturer, Researcher and Consultant