Tunisian Muslim women allowed to marry non-Muslims for first time in decades

Ban has been in place since 1973

Sally Hayden
Saturday 16 September 2017 09:20 BST
Women still face a lot of discrimination, particularly when it comes to inheritance rights
Women still face a lot of discrimination, particularly when it comes to inheritance rights

Tunisian women will be allowed to marry non-Muslim men legally for the first time in 44 years, after a controversial ban was lifted.

Last month, 90-year-old president Beji Caid Essebsi argued that the ban violated Tunisia's constitution, and set up a female-led commission to revise the rules.

Mr Caid Essebsi said he wants to create "total, actual equality between men and women citizens in a progressive way".

Before the ban was scrapped, if a Tunisian woman wanted to marry a non-Muslim man, the man would have to convert to Islam and provide a certificate as proof.

"Congratulations to the women of Tunisia in enshrining the right to choose a spouse," Saida Garrach, spokesperson for the presidency, wrote on Facebook.

The ban has been in place since 1973. Tunisia's constitution was introduced in 2014 following the Arab Spring.

"Repeal of the decree was an excellent step forward in Tunisian women's decades-long quest to live as equal citizens under the law," Monica Marks, Tunisia expert at Oxford University, told The Independent.

"Repealing the law has long been a priority for leading women's rights groups in Tunisia, and their activism helped lead to the repeal."

However, Ms Marks suggested the timing of the repeal may be political.

"Just two days ago, Tunisia's parliament passed a highly controversial law that will effectively amnesty public officials who committed crimes under Tunisia's former regimes," she noted.

The so-called “Economic Reconciliation” law grants amnesty to officials accused of corruption during the rule of autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Its proposal led to months of protests.

Within Tunisia, women still face significant discrimination, particularly when it comes to inheritance. A daughter is only entitled to inherit half as much as a son, something powerful mainstream Muslim clerics say is enshrined in the Koran.

Agencies contributed to this report

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