Combating Violence against Women is Stronger than Ever
Upon an invitation from the coalition of women parliamentarians from Arab countries to combat violence against women and Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and under the auspices of the Ministry of Women, Family and Childhood in Tunisia, the Regional Conference of the Coalition was held in Tunis on 16 and 17 November. In the presence of delegations from 13 Arab countries, together with a group of parliamentarians, judges and representatives of organizations active in the field of the defense of women’s rights and with the participation of the Minister of Women, Family and Childhood in Tunisia.
As part of continuing the procedures of consultations regarding the convention and in order to support the efforts of the Arab League and the Women’s Committee and their vision of adopting a model convention to combat violence against women in the Arab world, the Coalition held its annual conference in Tunisia due to the fact that Tunisia will be chairing in 2018 the Committee of Arab Women. The Coalition as well values Tunisia’s pioneering role and its experience in supporting women’s rights at the level of passing national legislation to combat violence against women, the latest of which is Law No. 58 of 2017 dated 11 August 2017 to eliminate violence against women.
The opening session was moderated by Ms. Eman Huimel, Director-General for Women, Family and Childhood Affairs at the Ministry of Women in Tunisia, where she thanked the Coalition for their efforts in combating violence against women and for their choice for Tunisia to hold its annual conference saying: “We value the Coalition’s efforts in promoting equal opportunities for women and men, and in reducing violence against women in Arab countries, and we thank the Coalition for choosing Tunisia to host his annual conference, which focuses on achieving two main objectives: The first is to complete the consultation process on the Arab Convention to Combat Violence against Women and Girls and Domestic Violence. The second is discussing the Laws and projects of combating violence against women in the Arab world and following up with its implementation.”
In her opening address, HE Naziha Obeidi, Minister of Women, Family and Childhood in Tunisia, thanked the coalition for choosing Tunisia to hold its conference. She stressed that this choice proved that Tunisia is a country of democracy and that it is moving towards the best in establishing a legislative system that protects the human rights of the children, the family, and the elderly. “I think that the coalition is a push towards repositioning Arab women in the world and in history.” She added that power, violence and sex are related to each other; as violence is fueled by power, power feeds on violence, sex seduces power, and the more the sense of power is there, the tendency towards violence and sex becomes stronger.This is represented in the educational and behavioral approach that has remained unchanged since the old days” she said. She also stressed that sexual harassment of women in public and at work, as well as in the family, indicates that the forms of violence and abuse against women are different, numerous, and various . “The problem is how to create and develop mindsets, how to develop the legislative system, and how to establish a society in which physical respect remains a method and a behavior,” she said and stressed that the convention submitted by the coalition will be the answer to these problems. As for the history of Tunisia in women legislation she said: “Since 1956, Tunisia has published the Personal Status Code, which is the result of an ancient system as old as time. The Personal Status Code was amended in 1993, where the issue of ‘obedience’ which obligates a wife to obey her husband in all aspects was abolished, and replaced by the principle of ‘mutual respect’ within the family. As well, and according to the amendments, the mother who entrusts custody to the father pays the maintenance and a fine to the husband and that shows Tunisia’s concern for the principle of equality between women and men.” She pointed out to the fact that the constitution of 2014 ensures that the state is the guarantor of human rights and said: “Due to this obligation, we ratified the law on 26 July 2017 -before the National Day of Tunisian Women- which contained prevention, deterrence, and prosecution, and what we are proud of is that all the parliamentary blocs voted for it; as when it comes to human rights, the conflicts and the differences in ideologies between political parties become meaningless.” As for the future plans of Tunisia she said: “We are in the process of studying the cost of violence on the state budget and drafting the outline of the national plan for implementing UNSC 1325. In addition, we have formed a peer council consisting of a group of national experts headed by the Prime Minister. Last year, All of the members of the government were chosen on the basis of gender equality. We have launched a new program for 2018, which we have called (He and She for All of Us) to solve the problem of equality between women and men, and we have allocated an award to institutions in which equality in decision-making positions is achieved. ” She commented: “Then we are moving towards achieving equality and towards achieving the planned goals.” She urged: “We as Arab women have a responsibility towards Arab societies that live the crises of displacement, violence, and the annihilation of their civilizations; Where is Iraq and its civilization? Where is Syria and its civilization? Where is Libya and its civilization?’ She assured that all of this urges women to take responsibility very seriously saying: “We are serious, and our gathering today is an evidence of our sense of responsibility towards our societies, our families, and even women in the world because we have been and continue to be role models for women in the world. We have to rewrite our history to show the world that we are a nation, became pioneers, and our place in this world is changing. We always go with great will towards the best and towards a new and a pleasant future.”
MP Wafa’ Bani Mustafa, the Chairperson of the coalition said in her speech: “When the coalition was established, we wanted to have an Arab entity in which female parliamentarians unite despite all of the obstacles that face the joint Arab action. We wanted to overcome all of these obstacles and forge a head with our societies, our nations, and our women. We do what we believe to be a national duty to our countries and women in our societies.” She asserted that women are the leaders and the drivers of economy, development, democracy, and reform in every country and not only half of the society or as some men say ‘mothers, daughters, or wives.’ She referred to the recent report issued by the World Economic Forum to reduce the gender gap, in which Tunisia occupied the first place in the Arab world. “When we look at North Africa, we wish that the winds of democracy, equality, and gender justice visit us” she said. She expressed her regrets that the Arab countries struggle a lot when it comes to the gender gap indicators that depend on education, health, economic empowerment, and political empowerment. “In some countries like Jordan, we have achieved high indicators in health and education, but when it comes to political and economic empowerment, we are moving backwards due to different challenges that hinder women’s participation in the labor market, and hold women back from senior political positions within parties and decision-making positions.” As regards the conference, she pointed out that choosing Tunisia to hold the conference wasn’t a random decision. “We watched with sympathetic hearts, with open eyes, and mixed feelings when you passed the law of protection against domestic violence in the House of Representatives. Our bodies shivered when we saw a whole parliament together with the members of the government singing the national anthem after achieving victory for women.” She said that this is how the case should be; when the victory for women becomes a reminder of the victory of the nation. “We do not separate women from the nation, the society or the family. We want this whole entity to be in its best conditions so that it can produce, reform and give more to the nations” she said. “We also celebrated in Jordan and in Lebanon in August the repeal of articles in the penal laws that allow the rapist to escape penalty if he marries his victim (Article 308 in Jordan and 522 in Lebanon). As well, we celebrated an amendment in article 306 of the Jordanian Penal law that criminalizes harassment and puts verbal and suggestive harassment as important parts of criminalization after these acts were not criminal. “She added:” We are moving forward and we hope that the convention which we will discuss in the first session will achieve more rights for women in the Arab world not only in situations of peace, but also in cases of refuge, displacement, occupation and migration.” She pointed out that till this moment there has not been a UN convention, and that there is a lobbying in the UN corridors to draft a UN convention to protect women. “We want our convention to be part of the literature when drafting the UN Convention and we rely heavily on Tunisia’s presidency for the Women’s Committee next February, and on the great support of the minister and the Tunisian government, which have been always known for its support and achievements for women” she said. She ended: ” In your national anthem poet Abi Al-Qasem Al Shabi says: If people choose a worthy life, the fate will accordingly respond. and I would like to say: If women choose a worthy life, the nations will respond accordingly.”
Dr. Dina Melhem, Program Director for the MENA region and Asia, delivered a speech in which she expressed her gratitude to the Ministry of Women, Family and Childhood for hosting the conference and stressed that violence is an unacceptable phenomenon for women around the world, and emphasized that this conference focuses on the necessity of uniting efforts to face the global scourge of violence against women, which is a common concern to the Arab countries and to women living there. “The importance of this event comes as we are about to celebrate the 16-day campaign against gender based violence, to shed the light on the importance of cooperative national and regional mechanisms on protecting women from violence, as one of the most important indicators of the states’ involvement in establishing protective systems for women.” She added that the Arab countries have witnessed many achievements where ‘marry- your-rapist’ articles were repealed in Jordan and Lebanon, and Tunisia adopted the new Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which is a model law in the Arab world. She stressed that despite all of these remarkable developments there remains a great challenge to keep these developments within legal frameworks without applying them in the required and expected form. She added that this conference sheds light on the mechanisms and tools to share solutions, in addition to the need to consider new strategies, a more comprehensive approach that will allow women to live without the threat of violence, and building broad alliances on a regional level in order to adopt the convention presented by the coalition in cooperation of the Arab League, which follows significant principles and takes into account the exclusive situation of women in times and zones of conflict.” She pointed out that the conference is a continuation of the workshops that has been held to develop national legislation and expand the discussions on the best means of implementing laws of prevention, protection and punishment. She added that the conference finally highlights the importance of leadership and a long-term vision. “The development of a model national and regional system requires the leadership, the vision, and the coordination among all decision-makers and key actors in this area, with an emphasis on the role of parliaments. To this end, our organization will be always honored to work with Arab leaders in combating violence against women.”
The conference discussed the Arab Convention to Combat Violence against Women, Girls, and Domestic Violence as one of the regional mechanisms for the protection of women’s rights, which the Coalition had developed and submitted to the Arab League in parallel with the latter’s strategies to combat violence against women. The two-day conference discussed working papers on national legislation to combat violence against women and their effective implementation. In addition it discussed ways of regional cooperation in the area of law enforcement and in filling gaps concerning the criminalization of some cases of violence against women.