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Ennahda members make conflicting statements about women’s rights in Tunisia

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Statements by female members of the Islamist Ennahda Party about a law that protects single mothers stirred controversy as to the future of women’s rights in Tunisia under Islamist rule, while pledges of a male member of the same party offered reason for optimism.

Implementing a law that protects women who have children outside marriage constitutes the encouragement behavior that does not become Muslim women, said Souad Abdul Rahim, a constituent assembly candidate who topped the list of the moderate Islamist party Ennahda in Tunisia’s first parliamentary election after the ouster of former president Zein el-Abedine Bin Ali.

“Such a law gives those women a legitimacy that encourages other women to do the same thing. We should work on reforming them instead,” she said in an interview with Radio Monte Carlo.

Abdul Rahim explained that the freedom granted to Tunisian should not be at the expense of Islamic principles.

“Women are to be given freedom within limits and without violating divine rules,” she said.

A law issued in 1998 gives children born outside of marriage the mother’s name after the necessary paternity and maternity tests are carried out. Illegitimate children, therefore, enjoy all the rights afforded to children.

According to sociological research, approximately 1,060 births out of wedlock are registered in Tunisia every year. Statistics issued by the Amal Association for Family and Child revealed that the majority of the women giving birth to babies out of wedlock are between 19 and 25 years of age.

While Abdul Rahim’s statements raised concerns about the possibility of curtailed women rights as the Islamist government takes over, a member of Ennahda ’s executive office, Ali al-Areed, stressed that there is no reason for worry.

According to al-Areed, the new Islamist government has no plans to change the personal status law in Tunisia, which is considered to be one of the most important gains made by Tunisian women in the past few years.

“The party will not change laws related to inheritance and polygamy because these laws are tailored for the Tunisian society,” he said in an interview with Al Arabiya television’s Noktet Nizam (Point of Order).

Areed explained that there is no contradiction between inheritance laws in Tunisia and those stipulated in Islam.

He added that polygamy is subject to several restrictions in Islam anyway, and that the ruler has the right to ban it if it is abused or if it threatens the stability of society.

“We respect the makeup of the Tunisian society, which was founded on monogamy. The family in Tunisia is made up of husband, wife, and children, and we plan to keep it as such.”

Areed stressed that Islamic principles can be adapted to all ages according to the circumstances and requirements of society.

“We want to preserve the gains that have already been made and we totally support the creation of a civil state,” he concluded.


(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)