(Tunis) – Tunisia’s parliament adopted a new law on November 10, 2015, that will allow women to travel with their minor children without getting permission from the children’s father. The Tunisian authorities should next ensure that all domestic laws conform to international standards and eliminate other forms of discrimination against women.

Tunisia women wave flags during a march to celebrate International Women's Day in Tunis on March 8, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

Tunisian authorities have a long-established practice of preventing women from leaving Tunisian territory with their children without the father’s authorization. Fathers were not subject to such a practice. The new law prohibits the authorities from discriminating against women this way by adding an article to the Tunisian law on passports allowing either parent to authorize a minor’s travel.

“Tunisia’s action recognizes that women are equal partners in making decisions about their children,” said Amna Guellali, Tunisia researcher. “Tunisia should follow this important step with measures to end all discrimination against women, notably in personal status matters.”

The Women and Family Affairs Ministry submitted the draft to parliament on August 21. The Parliamentary Commission on Rights and Freedoms started debating the draft in September and sent it for approval to the plenary session on October 26. The plenary session adopted the law 143 to 1, with 4 abstentions. It will be effective after the president signs it and it is published in the Official Journal, which may take only four days if there is no challenge to the constitutionality of the law.

Tunisia’s new constitution, adopted on January 27, 2014, has strong protections for women’s rights, including article 46, which provides that “The state commits to protect women’s established rights and works to strengthen and develop those rights,” and guarantees “equality of opportunities between women and men to have access to all levels of responsibility and in all domains.” It makes Tunisia one of the few countries in the Middle East and North Africa region with a constitutional obligation to work toward gender parity in elected assemblies.

On April 23, 2014, Tunisia officially lifted key reservations on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). These reservations had enabled Tunisia to opt out of certain provisions, including on women’s rights within the family, even though the country had ratified the treaty. 

Although Tunisia has one of the most progressive personal status laws in the region, the personal status code still contains discriminatory provisions. Where a woman may be granted custody of her children, the father still remains the legal guardian. Tunisian daughters are denied an equal share of an inheritance with brothers, and sometimes other male family members, such as cousins, who are legally entitled to a greater share. Article 58 of the personal status code gives judges the discretion to grant custody to either the mother or the father based on the best interests of the child, but prohibits allowing a mother to have her children live with her if she has remarried. No such restriction applies to fathers.

Tunisia is also one of a handful of members of the African Union that did not sign, let alone ratify, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), which sets out additional rights to CEDAW. Tunisia should also sign and ratify the Maputo Protocol, Human Rights Watch said.

“The personal status code still discriminates against women in their families and this needs to change,” Guellali said.“Ending all remaining legal discrimination against women should be a top priority for Tunisia’s lawmakers.”