Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Arab Spring turns to bleak winter for Tunisian women in 23 October elections. Political Leaders ensure Democracy is for ‘men-only’.

A democratic future for Tunisia looks as though it has fallen at the first hurdle. Tunisia's elections should have been a great day for Arab women, but Tunisia's Party Leaders have broken one of the first election rules they agreed upon in the new liberated Tunisia – namely that there would be a gender balance of 50% women and 50% men as candidates in the election. An opinion poll carried out by Global Management Services showed that a 50 percent women quota on the ballot papers had more supporters than opponents among the Tunisian population – (45.2% for and 41.1% against). Even Tunisia’s largest Islamist movement, Nahda, which was forbidden during the old regime and is now standing in the upcoming elections, gave their supports to quotas.

In a Zipper system similar to the system successfully used in the Nordic countries  Tunisian political parties are required to have alternate  women and men’s names on their party lists of candidates for the constitutional assembly elections but there is little expectation that more than 10 % of the 217 seats will go to women in tomorrow's  election. Only candidates on top of the lists are likely to win a seat, and women only head about 5 % of the lists.
 This betrayal of half Tunisia’s population in such a shameful way means  the  new assembly elected to rewrite the constitution will be  dominated by men with possibly disastrous downstream consequences for  women’s lives in Tunisia, which prides itself as the most feminist country in the region. In 1956, after independence from the French, women's rights were enshrined in law, banning multiple marriages and forced unilateral divorce. There is a minimum marriage age of 18 and rights for divorced women which are unprecedented in the Arab world. Women in headscarves rub shoulders with others in tight jeans and loose hair. More than 80% of adult females are literate, the contraception rate is high and women make up half the student population, a third of magistrates and a quarter of the diplomatic corps.
It does not bode well for a democratic accountable transparent future when political leaders so blatantly flout  their own rules at the first elections.

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