The new law, which is expected to enter into force next year, defines violence against women as “any physical, moral, sexual or economic aggression” against women based on discrimination between the two sexes. It includes the key elements of the definition of domestic violence recommended in the United Nations Handbook for Legislation on Violence against Women.
“This law is a landmark test for women’s rights in Tunisia,” said Amna Guellali, Tunisia office director for Human Rights Watch, in an interview with FRANCE 24 Thursday. “Tunisia has always been portrayed as one of the best countries for women’s rights in the region. With this law, it is keeping its position as a pioneer and a champion of women’s rights in the area.”
However, although Tunisia is seen as a pioneer of women's rights in the Arab world, rights groups say women are still discriminated against, with at least 47 percent of Tunisian women saying they have experienced domestic violence in their lives, according to a 2010 survey from the National Family Office.
But before the approval the Law on Eliminating Violence Against Women, the North African nation had no specific legislation on domestic violence.
The new law recognises violence against women in the family as well as in public spaces and adopts a comprehensive approach to fighting the problem, including preventative measures, specialised police and prosecution units as well as judicial services for victims of violence.
“All of this represents a revolution in the legal system and also a revolution in the mentality because usually the violence against women that takes place inside the house is considered something private and something for the family to deal with,” explained Guellali.
International funding required
While the law has been welcomed by human rights groups, Guellali warned that Tunisia would require international funding assistance to implement the sweeping, ambitious law.
“While the law requires authorities to refer women to shelters if they are in need, it provides no mechanisms for funding either governmental or nongovernmental shelters,” said an HRW statement. “It also does not set out provisions for the government to provide women with timely financial assistance to meet their needs or assistance in finding long-term accommodation. The law, in sum, does not stipulate how the state will fund the programs and policies it brings into being.”
Despite the questions over funding implementation measures, Guellali nevertheless welcomed Tunisia’s new law, noting that it could set a precedent in the region.
“We hope that this precedent that Tunisia is setting will be followed by others,” said Guellali. “Morocco is also debating a law on domestic violence. Algeria adopted a law last year that criminalises violence against women, but it is below the required standards. So we hope that this precedent from Tunisia and this new law will push the reform agenda for fighting violence against women in the region.”