Tunisia: Government Lifts Reservations to CEDAW
Monday, September 19, 2011 11:55 AM

On August 16, 2011, the Tunisian Council of Ministers adopted a draft decree to lift reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The reservations concerned women’s equality within the family, including passing their nationality to their children, rights and responsibilities in marriage and divorce, matters relating to children and guardianship, both spouses' personal rights for family name and occupation, and property rights.

All but one of the reservations will be lifted. The remaining reservation is a general declaration stating that Tunisia “shall not take any organizational or legislative decision in conformity with the requirements of this Convention where such a decision would conflict with the provisions of Chapter I of the Tunisian Constitution,” which establishes Islam as the state religion.  Human Rights Watch stated that the Tunisian government should also eliminate this declaration because no state should use its own constitution to rationalize deviations from international standards for women's equality.  Although this provision remains, the Tunisian government does not rely on it to bypass any CEDAW requirements.

The Tunisian government’s next step is to remove discriminatory provisions against women in its personal status codes which are now in violation of CEDAW.  These include laws which deny women an equal share of an inheritance and child custody procedures which prohibit children from living with their mother upon remarriage. 

The draft decree marks an important step towards gender equality for both Tunisia and the greater North African & Middle Eastern region.  Tunisia is the first country in the region to lift all specific reservations to CEDAW and one of only two countries in the region to adopt the Optional Protocol to CEDAW.  The Optional Protocol entitles individuals or groups of individuals to submit women's rights violations complaints to the CEDAW Committee, thereby ensuring progress towards gender equality.

Compiled from: European Women’s Lobby (September 12, 2011).