Sixty years ago, after gaining independence from France, Tunisia adopted the most progressive laws supporting women’s rights in the Middle East. The Tunisian Code of Personal Status outlawed polygamy, and gave women equal rights around decisions of marriage, divorce and child custody. Over the years, many have tried in the name of religion and cultural norms to challenge these laws. Most recently, the first draft of Tunisia’s new constitution released in 2012 caused outcry among women and emerging civil society organizations when Article 28 described women’s roles in the family as “complementary” to that of men.
As testament to the growing strength of women’s organizations in Tunisia, the “complementary” clause of Article 28 was removed from the next draft. In 2014, after many months of hard work and sustained advocacy, the rights won by Tunisian women over more than half a century were safely enshrined in the country’s new constitution.
Each year on August 13th, Tunisians celebrate National Women’s Day. For many, it’s a day to acknowledge what they have achieved for women’s rights, while recognizing and continuing to fight the many challenges that still exist against gender equality.
IIE’s Women’s Enterprise for Sustainability (WES) program confronts these challenges by building the capacity of women-focused civil society organizations in Tunisia to empower women entrepreneurs in their communities. WES supports partner organizations to operate Centers for Women’s Business Development. Through these Centers, women gain skills, networks, and support to launch and grow businesses. The WES Centers also provide a unique space where women can gather, gain leadership skills, learn about women’s rights and engage in civil society.