Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tunisia is leading the way on women's rights in the Middle East

Tunisia is the first country in the region to withdraw reservations to the UN convention granting equal rights to men and women

Brian Whitaker, Saturday 10 September 2011

"Last December, Tunisians rose up against their dictator, triggering a political earthquake that has sent shockwaves through most of the Middle East and north Africa. Now, Tunisia is leading the way once again – this time on the vexed issue of gender equality.

It has become the first country in the region to withdraw all its specific reservations regarding Cedaw – the international convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.

This may sound a rather obscure and technical matter but it's actually a very important step. It reverses a long-standing abuse of human rights treaties – especially in the Middle East – where repressive regimes sign up to these treaties for purposes of international respectability but then excuse themselves from some or all of their obligations.

Saudi Arabia, for example, operates the world's most blatant and institutionalised system of discrimination against women – and yet, along with 17 other Arab states, it is also a party to Cedaw. It attempts to reconcile this position through reservations saying it does not consider itself bound by any part of the treaty which conflicts "with the norms of Islamic law"......"

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