Tunisian lawmakers on Thursday passed a “landmark” law aimed at protecting women against rape and domestic violence.
The law, tiltled the “Law on Eliminating Violence against Women”, abolishes a controversial clause that allows rapists to escape punishment if they marry their victims.
It also the country’s first piece of legislation that recognises domestic violence as a punishable crime.
“It’s a very moving moment and we are proud in Tunisia to have been able to gather around a historic project,” said Women’s Minister Naziha Laabidi.
Women’s rights activists have struggled for decades for legal protections against rape and abuse, in a country that has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the world.
The legislation, which will come into effect next year, allow women to seek protection from violent spouses and relatives. It also contains provisions for protection against public harrassment and “physical, moral and sexual” violence.
In the bills early stages, Islamist Ennahda Party minister Sayida Ounissi pledged that it would redefine attitudes towards domstic violence in Tunisia, where it is often considered a private matter.
Rights groups have also praised the move as a positive stride for women’s rights in the country, which has the highest percentage of female parliamentary representation of any Arab country.
This praise, however, was balanced with caution about the limits of the new law.
“Tunisian authorities should ensure that there is adequate funding and political will to put the law fully into effect and to eliminate discrimination against women,” said Amna Guellali, Tunisia office director at Human Rights Watch.
“While the law requires authorities to refer women to shelters if they are in need, it provides no mechanisms for funding either governmental or non-governmental shelters.
“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 programmes and policies it brings into being.”