Discriminatory Laws Undermining Women’s Rights
A recent EP Study on the E P democr acy support activities identified the MEPs’ political perspective and
approach as the EP’s distinct comparative advantage, together with the MEPs’ understanding of how the
funct ioning of pa rliame nt fa cilitate s a demo cratic polit ical pr ocess, in cluding throu gh cons ensus building.
This ability of MEPs to work with their peers in othe r par liamen ts g ives t hem a comparative advantage in
dialogue and exchange o n issues related t o gender equality in law. Further more, the EP brings political
lever age t o its activit ies, in cluding thr ough th e invo lvement of p olitical p art ies an d their net works136.
The EP’s capacit y build ing to ol, centred around peer-to-peer exchanges between MEPs and MPs from third
country parliaments, represents an important add ed value to the Eu ropean Commission’s development
cooperation and financial assistance. The EUDs s hould a lways con sider the EP’s comparative advantage
when engaging on law reform processes in third countries. Where EU actors on the ground believe that
reaching out to the legislative on a peer-to-peer bas is could have t he potential to adva nce the gender
equality law agenda, the EP should be consulted and informed.
It mu st nevert heless be kept in mind that t he resources of t he EP to engage in dem ocracy support in third
coun tries are a nd will rem ain lim ited. The EP’s inter-parliamentary delegations and pa rt icipatio n in
parliamentary assemblies will th eref ore remain an important channel for its engagemen t in gender
equa lity in law, es pecially in countries with less fertile groun d for reform.
The ability of the EP to contribute directly to reform of laws that discriminate against women through the
democracy support activities of the DEG and through inter-parliamentary assemblies and delegations
becomes grea ter where ther e is more in-depth technical knowledge of the legislative issues u nder
discu ssio n. The refore, it is crucial that the European Commission always shares it technical knowledge on
gend er equ ality issues in t hird cou ntries with ME Ps – including the Country Gender Profiles. Thi s will enable
the EP t o go from generalities to specifics in their engagements on gender equality in law with third
coun tries ’ par liaments.
8 Case studies
Tunis ia ha s a lon g and proud t radition o f femin ist activ ism. The founding lea der o f Tunisia , Presiden t Habib
Bourguiba, considered the emancipation of women as a pr econdition for successful development of the
country. This policy o f ‘State-su pported feminism’ was continued by his s uccessor , President Zine el
Abidin e Ben Ali.
The principle of equality between men and women was enshrined in the first Tunisian constitution in 1956.
The Pers onal Status law ado pted at independence was one o f the most progressive in the Ar ab world,
pro hibitin g poly gamy an d ren unciatio n, requirin g the consent of both parties to a marriage, and granting
women the right to request divorce. Tunisian women gained access to birth control in 1962 and abortion
on r eques t was legalis ed in Tu nisia in 1973, the f irst Muslim count ry t o do s o.
Tunis ia ra tified CEDAW in 1985 and the Maputo Protocol to the African Charter in 2018. Tunisia withdrew
all s pecific r eserva tions made o n ratificatio n to the CE DAW in 2014, bu t contin ues to ma intain a general
declaration that it will ‘not take any take any action or adopt any law in accordance with the requirements
of the Convention’, where such a decision would conflict with the Constitutional provision that the religion
of the country is Islam.
136 RUTHRAU FF, Hol ly, CROZI ER, Sarah, R OBERTS, Hannah: EP Democr acy support acti viti es and their follow-up, and prospect s for
the future, European Parliament Study, Directorate General for External Policies, January 2019.