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Tunisians win ground breaking law on violence against women

After 20 years of struggle, the women of Tunisia, alongside Tunisian feminist organisations, civil society, and the women’s committee of ITF affiliate the UGTT, have won a ground breaking new law to eliminate all forms of violence based on sex discrimination, failure to respect human dignity, and failure to respect equality between men and women.

The law was unanimously passed by the Assembly of Deputies of the Tunisian People (Parliament) on 26 July 2017.  

The law is unique in the Arab world and features among only 19 laws worldwide which relate to violence against women based on gender.

Key aspects of the new law

  • The identification of violence and its different forms in relation to women (physical violence, sexual, economic, or political morality).
  • In addition to women, it encompasses children in its definition of the term “victim”, as identified within the framework of the “Child Protection Code”.
  • The commitment of the State to assist women who are victims of violence as well as children who live with them, in accordance with the following general principles:
  • Respecting the decision of the victim, and the safeguarding of their personal data.
  • The obligation of ensuring the same opportunities and the same services in all the regions of the country.
  • Offering victims legal, social, medical, and psychological assistance.
  • The obligation to take action to prepare a strategy and implement it among the institutions of the State (education, health, culture, women) to ensure that public opinion is sensitised to the offences of violence against women and segregation based on sex.
  • The obligation of the State (Article 6) to take all necessary measures to fight against actions and attitudes which are discriminatory against women at the level of Social Security wages in all sectors, the banning of economic segregation of women, and their employment under poor conditions which are damaging to their health and dignity.
  • The State is to put in place, by way of the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior, programmes of training and education in their establishments concerned, with a view to developing methods of reacting to complaints relating to violence suffered by women.
  • The obligation of the public and private mass media to implement mechanisms and activities to achieve sensitisation with regard to violence exerted towards women.
  • The banning of publicity or publication of material which is demeaning to the image of women and which favours violence towards women.

Protection against crime

Crimes committed against women are subject to severe penalties under the law, covering all acts of violence committed against women (moral, physical, economic, psychological, and sexual).

One particularly notable innovation is the cancellation of Article 227 B of the Penal Code, which allowed a molester to escape sanctions if he agreed to marry a victim who was a minor (under the age of 15).

The new law maintains and enhances the penalties against molesters even if the victim (less than 16 years of age) withdraws the complaint, and does not consider this issue of marriage whatsoever.

This law considers economic discrimination at work as a crime, and this is subject to penalties in the form of appropriate fines.

The employment of children in a domestic situation is subject to a term of imprisonment from three to six months, plus a fine.

The principle measures of enforcement

  • The creation of an independent division within the courts reserved for misdemeanours and crimes involving violence.
  • The creation in the different regions of secure units (with women among its members) specialising in crimes of violence against women. The law defines the measures to be taken in support of women who are victims of violence:
  • Assistance in cases of physical, psychological, moral, and sexual injury and damage.
  • Providing shelter for the victim of violence and her children.
  • Presence of a psychiatrist or social assistance in certain cases of complaints.
  • Creation of a national watchdog body for fighting against violence towards women, with far-reaching resources and powers.