Tunisia Enshrines Gender Equality in Draft Constitution - Reports

Tunisia approved on Monday an article in its draft constitution which establishes equality between the sexes and forbids discrimination, according to media reports.

"All male and female citizens have the same rights and duties. They are equal before the law without discrimination," reads article 20, which was approved by 159 out of 169 lawmakers.

The wording is the result of a compromise between the moderate Islamist ruling party Ennahda and secular opposition parties.

Rights groups Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have criticized article 20 on the ground that its wording is not strong or detailed enough, the French newspaper Libération reported. HRW issued on Friday a set of recommendations "for strengthening human rights and freedoms in the constitution."

"Article 20 should specify that discrimination, direct and indirect, is prohibited on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, and that discriminatory laws or state policies are unconstitutional," HRW said.

"The current draft limits the protection of rights to citizens and does not specify the prohibited grounds of discrimination."

Rights groups also condemned the draft document for retaining the death penalty.

Tunisia has long been considered the most progressive country in the Arab world in terms of women's rights, though men retain important privileges especially over inheritance.

Despite the criticism, some women's groups welcomed the adoption of article 20.

"We wanted to add details that would ban discrimination based on sex or skin colour," Ahlem Belhaj, former president of the Tunisian Association of Women Democrats, told the French news agency AFP. "But it is very good news that (gender) equality has been adopted. It was our demand and it's a victory."

The National Constituent Assembly (NCA) was ordered to write a new constitution after the overthrow of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali during the 2011 uprising which set off the Arab Spring revolutions in other North African countries like Egypt and Libya.

The assembly is expected to approve the new constitution by Jan. 13, according to Tunisia Live.

Proposed amendments to make the Quran and other religious texts the main sources of legislation were rejected, the website said.

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