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Tunisia women march for same inheritance rights as men

Tunisia inheritance law based on Islamic jurisprudence stipulating men inherit double amount received by women
Tunisians demand altering religious law concerning inheritance on Saturday in capital Tunis (AFP)

Tunisian women led a march by more than 1,000 demonstrators on Saturday, including men, to demand equal inheritance rights for both sexes in the North African country.

Tunisia's inheritance law is based on Islamic jurisprudence stipulating that men inherit double the amount received by women.

The demonstrators marched to the seat of parliament in the Tunisian capital chanting equal inheritance rights "are a right, not a favour".

The North African Muslim country grants women more rights than other countries in the region, and since last year has allowed Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men.

But the protesters marching to the parliament building in Tunis said they want to be compared with European women and to be entitled to the same inheritance rights.

Last year, President Beji Caid Essebsi announced plans to set up a commission to examine "individual liberties" and "equality in all domains," including inheritance.

His announcement sparked opposition from Muslim clerics who issued a statement saying the proposals amounted to "a flagrant violation" of Islamic precepts.

Tunisia, which adopted a 1956 Personal Status Code extending several rights to women and abolishing polygamy, is seen as a pioneer on women's emancipation in the Arab world, although tensions often surface between conservatives and reformists.

The 2011 revolution in Tunisia toppled the government of autocratic president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and sparked uprisings across the Arab world, where changes to inheritance rights are often considered a taboo.

But activists on Saturday stressed the demand for equality among the sexes in Tunisia.

"There must be equality, it is in the constitution" that was adopted after the 2011 uprising, said Sana Ben Achour, president of the Beity association, which supports women.

A constitution adopted in 2014 guarantees equality between men and women.

Constitution guarantees equality

Article 21 of the constitution states: "All citizens, male and female, have equal rights and duties, and are equal before the law without any discrimination."

Monia Ben Jemia, who heads the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, said she hoped the law will change by next year.

"The fact that we are talking about it now means that we have already won the battle," she said.

Rahma Jawadi, who heads a rural women's organisation in northwestern Tunisia, said any change in the law on inheritance would help empower women in her region.

"They could farm the land and have a revenue," she said.

The commission examining individual liberties is expected to release its first report in June and will likely recommend a policy of step-by-step changes, one of its members said.

It may suggest that families take it upon themselves to equally distribute the inheritance between sons and daughters, thus bypassing Islamic precepts.

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