In a first for the region, the North African nation of Tunisia is diligently working on pushing forward legislation that, if passed, will give women equal inheritance rights. Despite drawing criticism from some Islamic scholars for what they see as an attempt to break with tradition, the Tunisian Council of Ministers approved the draft law on November 28 and has now sent it to parliament to be further discussed and ratified.
If passed, it will amend the country’s 1956 Code of Personal Status, which provides that men should in some cases inherit the double of women’s portion, based on interpretations of Islamic sharia law. According to Middle East Monitor, the bill, which was proposed last year by Tunisian President Mohammed Beji Caid Essebsi on the occasion of International Women’s Day, has so far been rejected by the Ennahda movement (which makes up the majority of the parliament), due to it contradicting the Quran.
In an article on the World Economic Forum website, the new law has also been drafted to guarantee “citizens a choice between following the Tunisian constitution or Sharia law.” As emphasized by President Essebi, “Tunisia is a civil country that is based on three elements: citizenship, the will of the people, and the supremacy of law […] The rights and duties of Tunisian men and women are equal, and … the state is committed to defending women’s rights and works on supporting and developing them.”
According to an article by National, Nabila Hamza, co-founder of the Tunisian Association for Democratic Women, said earlier this year in spring that “[t]he inheritance law is a significant barrier for women. It reduces their economic autonomy. Only 12% [of Tunisian women] own a house and only 14% own land.”