1. In 2011, upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, the
Yemenite women’s rights activist, Tawakkol Karman, dedicated it
to the Arab Spring. In the collective imagination, she became the
symbol of thousands of Arab women who were coming out into the open,
onto the streets and on the Internet, to call for more equality,
an active role in political life, and democratic change in their
2. These women were protagonists in the movements which prompted
the recent political upheavals in a number of countries of the southern
shore of the Mediterranean: in Morocco, they participated in the “Movement
for dignity”, which led to a constitutional reform; in Tunisia,
they were among the bloggers who contributed to the fall of Ben
Ali’s regime; in Libya, they supported the fight against Colonel
Gaddafi’s dictatorship; in Egypt, they called for President Mubarak’s
resignation. Beyond the South Mediterranean, encouraged by the domino
effect of the Arab Spring, women peacefully fought for their rights
in Bahrein, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen.
3. However, as protests gained increasing support amongst the
population and brought about political changes, women were set aside.
On several occasions, women participating in demonstrations were
subjected to intimidation and violence by groups of men. In Egypt,
Morocco and Tunisia, women’s representation in parliament and government
is either negligible or well below expectations. In Libya, the introduction
of a special quota for women in the future Constituent Assembly
has been abandoned and the introduction of Sharia Law is envisaged.
Politically, the uncertainty over what the Arab Spring has in store
for women is increased by the electoral success of Islamist parties
in all the electoral contests which have taken place in the region.
4. One year later, in the light of these developments, it is
legitimate to ask ourselves whether the Arab Spring is going to
meet women’s demands for more equality.
origin, scope and sources of the present report
5. This report is meant to be a contribution to the
debate on the evaluation of the Arab Spring and an encouragement
to women to continue to be actors of democratic change. It should
also help the Council of Europe to identify the priorities for its
engagement in the countries of the Southern shore of the Mediterranean.
The origin of the present report is a motion for a recommendation
on “Gender equality and the status of women in the Council of Europe
southern neighbourhood”, presented by Ms Deborah Bergamini and others (Doc. 12652
the scope of the Arab Spring is broader, in this report I will keep
the same geographical scope as the original motion – which is limited
to the countries of North Africa –, as these are the countries with which
the Council of Europe as an organisation has initiated a closer
dialogue and co-operation. I have decided not to address the situation
in Algeria, as this country has not been substantially affected
by the Arab Spring and has not undertaken a process of constitutional
reform. This report uses the expression “Arab Spring”, but deals
in fact with the democratic spring which included all the populations
that are present in the region, including the Amazighs.
For the preparation of the present report, I have relied on
desk research as well as first-hand information gathered through
a number of events organised by the Committee on equal opportunities
for women and men
report also draws ideas and information from the Conference on Women
as agents of change in the South of the Mediterranean, organised
by the European Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity
(North-South Centre) in Rome (24-25 October 2011).
I would like to take this opportunity to warmly thank the
Moroccan and Tunisian authorities for the assistance and co-operation
which enabled me to conduct fact-finding visits to these countries,
respectively on 15-18 February and 19-21 February 2011.
3. The electoral success
of Islamist parties and its implications for women’s rights
9. In the wake of popular demonstrations, elections
took place in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt and are scheduled to take
place in Libya. One common feature of these elections has been the
clamorous success of Islamist parties.
10. This success is particularly marked in Egypt, where Islamist
political forces represent 75% in parliament. The Freedom and Justice
Party, which was founded by the organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood
in April 2011, has obtained 47% of the seats (235 out of 498 seats).
The second main political force is an alliance of three radical
salafist parties (Al-Nour,
and Development party and the Authenticity party),
which has 125 seats, that is 25%.
addition, independent candidates of Al-Nour won 28 of the 168 seats
reserved for independent candidates.
In October 2011, the Tunisian electorate was called to choose
the members of the National Constituent Assembly which would be
in charge of drafting a new constitution.
The moderate Islamist
party Ennahda (“Renaissance”) won 89 of the 217 seats, followed
by the Congress for the Republic (29 elected), of liberal inspiration,
the new party Popular Petition (26 seats) and the centre-left Ettakattol
the elections, Ennahda formed a coalition with the Congress for
the Republic and Ettakattol.
In Morocco, the elections concerned the 395 seats of the House
of Representatives, which is the lower chamber of the Moroccan Parliament
and the only one elected by a direct vote.
The Justice and Development Party (PJD),
of Islamist inspiration, gained 27% of the seats (107 out of 395).
this result, Abdelilah Benkirane, Secretary General of the PJD,
was instructed to form a government. Unable to establish an absolute
majority, the PJD formed an alliance with the Istiqlal party, which
had been in power most of the time since independence, and other
parties having a long history in the Moroccan political scene.
14. Building a representative democracy will represent a particularly
daunting challenge for Libya, a country where political parties
have been banned since 1972. Elections for a Constituent Assembly
should be held in June 2012.
Islamist organisations and movements, which were severely
persecuted under Geddafi’s regime, took active part in the uprising.
Amongst the most influential Islamist organisations are the Libyan
branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which reportedly has doubled its
membership since February 2011, and the Libyan Islamic Movement
for Change (LIMC).
16. Despite being represented in the National Transitional Council
(NTC), which has de facto ruled
the country since the demise of the previous regime, many Islamists
criticise it as a secular structure geared towards a Western international
audience, to the detriment of national Islamist values. There are
no reasons to doubt that, also in Libya, Islamist parties will have
political support from the majority of the population.
The success of Islamist parties in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia
and, in the near future, probably in Libya represents a major political
change in the entire region: before the Arab Spring, some of these
parties were either banned or did not exist. In fact, previous regimes
often presented themselves as the main barrier against Islamism,
and some may argue that it is mainly on this basis that they enjoyed
18. The Islamist parties that obtained the greatest electoral
support present themselves as moderate forces; their leaders have
indicated willingness not to put into question the progress in the
area of gender equality achieved under previous regimes or governments.
19. In Tunisia, for instance, the electoral programme of Ennahda
explicitly called for protection of women’s freedoms and equal opportunities
for women and men as regards employment and administrative and political responsibilities.
The fight against all forms of discrimination and violence against
women was also indicated as one of the goals. Party representatives
that I met during the visit assured me that women’s rights would
be protected. In Morocco, the PJD has pointed out on several occasions
that civil rights and women’s rights will not be adversely affected.
In Egypt, the principles of freedom, equality for citizens and equal
opportunities for women and men appear in the manifesto of the Muslim
Brotherhood, as well as the prohibition of any discrimination based
on “religion, sex or colour”.
20. These declarations are a reassuring first step. However, the
real orientation that these parties and movements will give to their
policies in practice is not yet entirely predictable, owing to their
sometimes short history and to the lack of previous governmental
responsibilities. Besides, the situation may differ considerably according
to whether they are in a coalition with other parties, whether they
have to compete with more radical parties for the support of the
Islamist electorate or on the basis of the specific characteristics
of each country.
21. For the Arab Spring to usher in real democracies, it is not
sufficient that what has been achieved so far in the area of gender
equality is not put into question: it is necessary to make further
22. The new governments of the region should engage in a systematic
and comprehensive effort to ensure that laws and policies are in
line with international human rights standards in the area of gender
equality and that women are given the same chances as men to participate
in all aspects of society and enjoy human rights. In doing so, these
countries should be able to rely on the support and assistance of
the Council of Europe, in a spirit of dialogue and mutual respect.
23. Dialogue with the Islamist political forces that have won
the elections is indeed a must. As political representatives elected
through processes which have been recognised in conformity with
international standards, these parties have full democratic legitimacy.
24. The Islamist success confronts Europe with a dual challenge:
how to understand the reality of other countries while avoiding
a European-centred approach, and how not to give in to any temptation
of cultural relativism.
The separation between state and religion is considered by
many, including the Assembly, as a necessary condition for gender
is not difficult to imagine, however, that suggestions to enhance the
status of women by introducing secularism would not lead to results,
because – with the exception of Tunisia – this concept is alien
to the political culture of these countries, would be perceived
as an imposition, and, moreover, the electorate is possibly not
interested in it.
26. Instead, the Council of Europe should help the States of the
region to promote gender equality and enhance the status of women
in a context where the separation between State and religion is
blurred, in the sense that religious law is either the main source
of law or strongly shapes it. In doing so, the Council of Europe should
reaffirm the universality and indivisibility of human rights, which
cannot be interpreted differently according to the culture, religion
or social context.
4. The decrease in
women’s political representation
27. The Arab Spring elections resulted in a disparity
between women’s contribution to the transition process and women’s
representation in politics.
In Egypt, only 2.2% of the seats of the new parliament are
occupied by women: nine of them were elected, while two were appointed
by the Supreme Council of the Military Forces (SCAF).
law on which the election was based did not set aside any special
quota for women. The only “positive action” to promote women’s political
representation was the requirement for at least one woman to be
present in every electoral list.
Women’s representation has deteriorated compared to the previous
legislature: as a result of the 2005 parliamentary election, only
five women were elected; however, subsequently, new legislation
enabled 64 seats for women to be added, which brought the representation
of women to 12%.
In Libya, in November 2011, the NTC set up an interim government,
composed of 29 ministers, two of whom are women: Ms Fatima Hamroush,
Minister of Health, and Ms Mabrouka Jibril, Minister of Social Affairs. At
the end of January 2012, a special committee in charge of the preparation
of the election adopted the electoral law for the election of the
future Constituent Assembly. The quota of 10% of the seats initially
reserved for women disappeared from the final text. However, there
seems to be a requirement for women to represent 50% of the candidates
on political parties’ electoral lists.
In Morocco, following the November 2011 election, women occupy
67 seats in the House of Representatives; 60 of them were elected
on the basis of a quota reserved for women,
while the other seven were elected in
local constituencies. This represents an improvement in the overall
representation of women in the lower chamber, which has passed from
12,3% to 16,7%. However, it remains exceedingly low, placing Morocco
in 72nd place amongst the countries of the world as regards women’s
32. The poor representation of women affects also the government,
which has only one woman: Ms Bassima Hakkaoui (PJD), Minister for
Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development. This represents
a dramatic step backwards, considering that in the previous government
there were seven women ministers.
The presence of only one woman in the government raised protests
from a number of women members of parliament.
pressure also from civil society groups, the Prime Minister has
made a commitment to compensate for this imbalance by appointing
more women to high-level decision-making positions within the administration.
34. As a result of the election in Tunisia, only 59 out of 217
seats are occupied by women. Again, this figure (27%) represents
a reduction in the proportion of women compared to the previous
legislature (30%). Thegovernment
counts only two women ministers (Ms Sihem Badi, Minister of Women
and Family Affairs, and Ms Mémia El Benna, Minister of Environment)
and one woman secretary of state (Ms Chahida Ben Fraj Bouraoui,
Secretary of State for Housing) out of 41 members (30 ministers
and eleven secretaries of state).
The poor result as regards women’s political representation
is a disappointment also in the light of the history of Tunisia,
where for years women have enjoyed a particularly advanced status
compared to other countries in the region. All the more so, considering
that the rules established in April 2011 by the Tunisian electoral
commission were particularly progressive, as they required political
parties to use “zip-lists”, alternating men and women from top to
bottom on their electoral lists.
36. Despite these provisions, the dispersion of the vote amongst
the high number of lists (110) strongly affected women’s chances
of election, as often only the first or the first two candidates
on the list were elected. Only 7% of lists had women as the first
37. The experience of the Arab Spring elections shows that, in
order to ensure meaningful representation of women in parliament,
it is necessary to introduce positive measures in electoral laws,
such as a quota of seats reserved for women or, even better, the
requirement for political parties to alternate men and women candidates
(the “zip lists” system), as a condition for the admissibility of
To do so, the new governments will have to overcome their
reticence over quotas and other positive measures to promote the
political representation of women. Such measures are indeed often
considered as a legacy of former regimes, when they were introduced
to give an appearance of modernity.
39. However crucial to make a leap forward, electoral laws cannot
achieve substantial results unless they are accompanied by an evolution
of mentalities. Women’s chances of success in politics overwhelmingly depend
on the willingness of political parties to put them forward for
Tunisia is a pioneering country in this area: a woman is at
the head of the Democratic Party for Progress (PDP); four women
are in the political office of the Green Party for Progress; three
women are in the political office of the Social-Democratic Movement
and one woman is in the political office of the Party of Popular Union.
election of a woman as Secretary General of the Unitarian Socialist
Party (USP), in Morocco, represents an important sign, even though
it is an isolated case.
parties include women in their political bureaux.
41. A final comment as regards Morocco: on the basis of the electoral
law which was used for the November 2011 elections, some seats were
reserved for women while others were reserved for men under 40.
Although this measure can be considered as a positive development
in so far as it promotes youth political participation, I cannot
but regret that it discriminates against young women. I hope that,
if retained for the next election, this provision will be reviewed
so as to ensure that also young women can benefit from it.
5. Social media and
women’s political participation
42. The Arab Spring would not have been the same without
the many women bloggers who used the social media to express their
views, spread information about developments and orchestrate protest
activities. Thanks to the accessibility of the Internet, women with
an appropriate level of education have managed to overcome societal
and cultural barriers and engage in political activism. Sometimes
they were acting on their own; other times they were linked to women’s
civil society groups and non-governmental organisations, which found
fertile breeding grounds during the upheavals.
Amongst the best-known examples of creative social media initiatives
launched by women were the “Women2Drive” campaign
Saudi Arabia, and the “HarassMap” initiative in Egypt,
ending the social acceptability of sexual harassment against women.
Currently, the civil society group Women4Libya is organising an
ipetition, collecting signatures on the Internet with a view to
asking for greater representation of Libyan women in the NTC and
future governmental institutions.
Women’s political activism through social networks is a positive
development, which should be preserved and encouraged. However,
we should be careful not to overestimate it: only one third of social
media users in the Arab world are women, a figure which is well
below the global average of 50% women and 50% men;
addition, virtual participation can be a first step towards women’s
empowerment, but “it might not necessarily translate into real-life
participation in mainstream political, civic and public arenas”.
45. It is necessary, therefore, to work closely with the authorities,
civil society and non-governmental organisations in order to find
appropriate mechanisms to promote women’s active participation and representation
in real political bodies and refrain from considering Internet activism
as a substitute for institutional forms of involvement.
46. At the same time, women bloggers (in groups or individually)
should be encouraged to continue in their active social media engagement,
as a new way of exerting democratic control over the authorities
and ringing alarm bells when appropriate.
Finally, it should not be forgotten that a great proportion
of women outside urban centres not only do not have access to the
Internet but often lack an appropriate level of education.
to provide women in rural areas with the basic instruments for their
empowerment – literacy and education – should be relentless.
reform: a window of opportunity for women’s rights
48. In the months to come, the constituent assemblies
of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia will undertake the drafting of new constitutions.
In addition, Morocco, where a new Constitution was approved by a
popular referendum, will have to adopt a wealth of legislation to
put the new Constitution into effect, with an effort which could
take five years of work.
The process of constitutional reform offers a unique opportunity
to enshrine the principle of gender equality in the backbone of
the legal system and thus create the legal conditions for enhancing
the status of women. Several measures can be taken to this end:
- embedding the principle of gender
equality in the constitution and ensuring that it is reflected in
- including in the constitution the possibility of introducing
positive actions and policies in order to promote equality between
women and men;
- establishing the precedence of international human rights
treaties to which a country is a party over national law.
50. These different measures are not mutually exclusive. On the
contrary, if introduced together they would offer the best guarantee
for a sound gender equality framework.
51. Morocco is leading the way in the area of constitutional reform.
The new constitution enshrines gender equality in its Article 19,
which reads: “Men and women should enjoy equal rights and freedoms
in all civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental
matters set forth by this title and by other provisions of the Constitution,
as well as in the conventions and international pacts duly ratified
by the Kingdom and this, in respect of the provisions of the Constitution,
the constant features and the laws of the Kingdom. The Moroccan State
aims to create parity between men and women. For this purpose, an
Authority for parity and fight against all forms of discrimination
52. The new provision can be hailed as decisive progress. It is
now of crucial importance to see to what extent the government will
consider it a priority to implement it, not only by setting up the
Authority for parity and fight against all forms of discrimination,
as required by the constitution, but also by establishing a comprehensive
legal framework to eradicate discrimination against women and promote
gender equality, and allocate sufficient funding for it.
Political will to consider the enhancement of the status of
women as a priority is the key element, as gender equality is one
of many other areas in which legal and political reforms will have
to be introduced to give implementation to the constitutional charter.
In this respect, a number of interlocutors in Morocco pointed out that
the National Plan on democracy and human rights, which had been
presented to the former Prime Minister in 2011, was a particularly
progressive document and hoped that it could be pursued.
54. The new Moroccan Constitution recognises the precedence of
international law over national legislation in its Preamble, which
states that the Kingdom of Morocco commits itself to: “giv[ing]
to international conventions it has ratified, in the framework of
the provisions of the Constitution and the laws of the Kingdom, in
compliance of its immutable national identity following the publication
of the conventions, the primacy on domestic law, and to harmonis[ing]
accordingly the relevant provisions of its national legislation”.
55. The other countries in the region should be encouraged to
introduce a similar provision, preferably in the part of the constitution
devoted to the sources of law.
An issue which often raises concern is the inclusion of Sharia
as a source of law in the constitution, or as the main source of
law. For instance, the announcement made by the Libyan TNC that
the future Libyan Constitution would be based on Sharia was received
with alarm in some quarters.
57. Before the Arab Spring, Sharia was explicitly considered as
the main source of law by the constitutions of Egypt and Libya;
it was not explicitly mentioned in the Moroccan and the Tunisian
constitutions, even if it permeated a large corpus of legislation,
in particular in the area of family and inheritance law.
58. I believe that, while remaining vigilant, the Assembly should
refrain from formulating general judgments without considering the
specificities of each national context. It would be neither appropriate
nor constructive for the Assembly to suggest that democratically
elected representatives who have been (or will be) voted on the
basis of an Islamist platform, in countries which are not Council
of Europe member states and where Islam is the religion of the state
and the religion of the majority of the population, should not include
Sharia amongst the sources of law.
59. Instead, if the Council of Europe and its Assembly want to
give a tangible contribution to strengthening women’s rights in
this neighbouring region, they should have a constructive approach:
they should promote knowledge and understanding of human rights
amongst the general population of these countries, support civil society
groups that promote women’s rights, and provide advice to the authorities
on how to ensure that the law is in line with fundamental international
human rights standards, irrespective of the religious context and the
influence of religion on the sources of law.
7. Key areas of legislative
7.1. Full applicability
of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia have all signed
and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women (CEDAW). However, only Libya and Tunisia are Parties
to the Optional Protocol, which recognises the competence of the
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to
receive complaints from individuals or groups. In 2006, Morocco
declared it would ratify the Optional Protocol but this statement
was not followed up by concrete action.
In recent years, Northern African countries, especially Egypt
and Morocco, have taken steps to withdraw reservations to important
articles. In particular, Morocco withdrew its reservations to Articles
9.2 and 16 in April 2011. However, to date, some reservations remain,
- Article 2 on
policy measures to be undertaken to eliminate discrimination (Libya,
- Article 9.2 on equality of rights between women and men
on passing nationality to children (Tunisia);
- to Article 15.4 on equality before the law, which refers
also to the movement of persons and freedom to choose residence
and domicile (Morocco, Tunisia);
- various paragraphs of Article 16 on marriage and family
law (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia);
- Article 29.1 on the regulation of disputes between one
or more States parties on the interpretation or application of the
convention (Morocco, Tunisia).
62. The current process of constitutional reform should be used
as an opportunity to remove the legal obstacles to the lifting of
Morocco could, therefore, give a concrete follow-up to the
declaration made in April 2010 by the King on the 60th anniversary
of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that all reservations
to the CEDAW would be withdrawn, and hopefully also ratify the Optional
Tunisia has already taken a concrete step in this direction:
following pressure from civil society groups
the visit by Ms Michele Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women,
the government adopted a decree aimed at lifting all the reservations
on specific articles.
as the Constituent Assembly is not a parliamentary assembly with
full legislative powers, the decree will have to wait until the
formation of a new parliament to be ratified.
65. The agreement to lift all the reservations to the CEDAW is,
politically, a sign of great importance: Morocco and Tunisia would
be the first Arab countries to do so. Momentum should not be lost,
and political commitments should be translated into actions as soon
It should also be mentioned that, at the time of ratification,
Tunisia made a general declaration to the effect that, in the implementation
of the CEDAW, it would not adopt any measure which contradicted
As underlined by civil society
groups, the authorities should consider withdrawing the general declaration,
which creates ambiguity on Tunisia’s political will to implement
the convention in its entirety and raises questions with regard
to the precedence of religion over human rights.
67. The removal of the reservations to the CEDAW would imply that
Morocco and Tunisia should embark on a process of legislative reform,
to fully align national law to these countries’ international obligations.
This applies, in particular, to the areas of family law, polygamy
7.2. Family law
68. In Morocco, remarkable progress for women in the
area of family law was made in 2004 with the adoption of the new
Family Code. In particular, the Code incorporated the principle
that a Moroccan woman can marry freely, without the permission of
her father. The requirement for the wife to obey her husband was
suppressed and the law considers wife and husband as joint heads
of the household. Spouses are on equal footing as regards marital
age, which is 18 for both women and men, whereas it used to be 15
and 18 respectively.
The 2004 Code also reformed divorce. Men’s unilateral right
to divorce was restricted and two new forms of divorce have been
introduced, based respectively on mutual consent and on irreconcilable
differences. Both can be initiated by either spouse. Discrimination
remains in so far as Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim
men. “This represents a discrimination against women, as no similar
provision applies to men, a violation of the fundamental right to
marry, and also a restriction of the freedom of religion”.
Even if the 2004 reform represented a turning point from a
legal point of view, there is still scope for improving the implementation
of the law, by providing training for members of the judiciary and
ensuring the consistent application of the law throughout the country,
including in rural areas.
71. The Tunisian constitution of 1956 enunciates at Article 6
the principle of equality of all citizens before the law. Gender
equality, although generally considered as part of this general
principle, is not explicitly mentioned. The Personal Status Code,
established after the independence of Tunisia (1957), accorded a
series of rights to women, such as the right to marry, manage their
own property and divorce, as well as the prohibition of polygamy.
72. In general, Tunisian law is progressive as regards gender
equality and women’s rights. However, a number of provisions in
the area of family law result in direct or indirect discrimination
against women. Even if, like in Morocco, the wife’s requirement
of obedience to her husband was suppressed in 1993, in Tunisia,
the husband remains the head of the household and the one who decides
the family’s place of residence. If the wife leaves the common residence
without authorisation – for instance because she is subjected to
marital violence –, she risks facing a divorce of which she will
have to bear the financial costs. At the same time, the husband
is free to decide to change the family’s place of residence without
asking his wife’s opinion, irrespective of whether this is in the
interests of the children. In addition, in Tunisia the concept of
paternal rather than parental authority over the children continues
to apply, while the mother only participates in some aspects of
the exercise of such authority.
73. The only country of the region which has abolished
polygamy is Tunisia, in 1956.
In Morocco, the 2004 Family Code did not abolish it but introduced
a number of restrictive conditions, such as the judge’s approval,
the first wife’s authorisation and the obligation for the husband
to possess sufficient financial resources to provide for all the
families. From a statistic point of view, polygamy concerns a very
limited number of families and is on the decline (approximately
864 men married a second wife in a polygamous marriage in 2007,
compared to 904 in 2004).
75. In Egypt, polygamy is subjected to less strict conditions
and is much more common. A man should inform the first wife that
he has taken a second wife within one year of the second marriage.
If he does not do so, the first wife is entitled to file for divorce.
In Libya, polygamy is permitted based on grounds of physical
and financial capacity, prior to judicial permission and written
authorisation from the wife.
77. In a number of exchanges I had with Moroccan interlocutors,
the impossibility of abolishing polygamy was pointed out to me,
with the argument that it is strictly related to religious law and
that such a move would not be understood by society. Although fully
realising that this is a particularly sensitive matter, I would
like to recall that, in addition to Tunisia which is a Muslim country
and where Islam is the State religion, polygamy has been abolished
also in Turkey.
Finally, I feel bound to underline that polygamy is in contravention
of international human rights standards. As stated by the CEDAW
Committee, “polygamous marriage contravenes a woman's right to equality
with men, and can have such serious emotional and financial consequences
for her and her dependents that such marriages ought to be discouraged
and prohibited. The Committee notes with concern that some States
parties, whose constitutions guarantee equal rights, permit polygamous
marriage in accordance with personal or customary law. This violates
the constitutional rights of women, and breaches the provisions
of article 5 (a) of the Convention”.
Inheritance law systematically discriminates against
women in all countries of the region: according to the rules of
Islamic law, a woman’s share is half the share of a man. Some Muslim
scholars have highlighted that this arrangement does not imply any
“judgement” on the value of women and men as human beings but rather
responds to the different role of women and men in a household and
their different financial needs, as the responsibility to support
the family lies with men.
80. Irrespective of the ratio of these rules and the fact that,
in reality, they are often circumvented through donations to women,
unequal inheritance rights in law contravene the principle of non-discrimination
laid down in the CEDAW and represent an actual or potential barrier
to women’s empowerment and emancipation.
8. Violence against
Violence against women is believed to be significant
in the region, although difficult to estimate in quantitative terms
due to endemic underreporting and lack of systematic data collection.
The most common form of violence against women is domestic violence.
According to reliable
sources, female genital mutilation is not practiced in Morocco and
Tunisia, unlike in Egypt and Libya.
genital mutilations should not be considered as a health issue,
but as a grave violation of women’s and children’s rights. The occurrence
of girl-child neglect has been reported in all the countries of
Despite consistent indications by non-governmental organisations
and civil society that so-called “honour” crimes occur,
is no reliable evidence or information about them; the authorities
of Morocco and Tunisia denied the occurrence of these crimes and
I am not aware of any relevant court cases. In general, so-called
“honour” violence occurs in communities where the concepts of honour
and shame are fundamentally bound up with the expected behaviour
of families and individuals, particularly those of women. I believe, therefore,
that these crimes also occur in the countries addressed in this
report, even if they do not reach the courts, because they are not
reported to the authorities or, in some cases, they are presented
as accidents or suicides.
Last but not least, in the recent conflict in Libya, hundreds
of women and girls have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war;
the authors of such crimes remain unpunished and no assistance has
been provided by the authorities to its victims.
In the last few years, in Morocco, the issue of violence against
women has become more visible thanks to the work of a number of
very active non-governmental organisations and to increased attention
by the government. According to a study by the Haut Commissariat
au Plan, 62.8% of Moroccan adult women suffered some form of gender-based
violence in 2010.
85. From a legal point of view, there is no comprehensive legal
framework to prevent and prosecute violence against women, even
if various forms of such violence are criminalised, including marital
86. The Moroccan authorities have made substantial efforts in
the area of visibility and awareness raising: the first national
campaign against gender-based violence was launched by the Moroccan
government in 1998 and several have followed. In 2006, in the framework
of the national strategy against gender-based violence, a National
observatory of violence against women was set up in which several
ministries (health, justice, development) and state departments
co-operate with civil society.
87. Despite its progressive approach to women’s rights, Tunisia’s
record in combating violence against women is also mixed. Amongst
the positive measures are the adoption of a national strategy in
2007, the inclusion in the legislation of a provision protecting
the physical integrity of women, the criminalisation of a number
of forms of violence against women, the abolition of the provision
that considered adultery as grounds for granting a pardon to husbands
who murdered their wives and the adoption of protection policies
for women who are victims of violence, including a public fund to
provide temporary financial aid to married women who leave abusive
At the same time, however, serious shortcomings are present
in the legal framework and in the functioning of the law-enforcement
system: domestic violence is generally viewed as a private issue
and the police usually refuse to intervene. If a woman withdraws
the complaint – and she often does so as a result of family pressure
– there is no obligation for the police or the courts to pursue
the matter further. Marital rape is not criminalised. The rape of
a minor does not represent a crime if its author marries the victim.
89. I believe that, in the light of the remarkable expertise of
the Council of Europe in the area of violence against women, there
is room for enhancing dialogue and co-operation with the countries
of the region in this particular area, providing legal expertise
to review legislation and tools to promote awareness raising amongst the
9. Access to justice
Even the most refined justice system cannot serve
its purpose if it is not accessible to its beneficiaries. Unfortunately,
multiple systemic barriers continue to limit the access of women
to justice in the region. The lack of knowledge of their rights
and of the justice system, in addition to social barriers and hurdles
such as the cost of legal advice and transportation prevent women
from reporting violations.
This applies in particular to sexual and domestic violence:
women are afraid to report it to the authorities because of their
fear of being stigmatised within their families and in their community.
According to a survey on the family courts
in Morocco, 69% of women who had experienced domestic violence expressed
a preference for resolving the problem within the family.
The large impunity of the offenders, secondary victimisation
and the low conviction rate are also elements which lead women not
to seek justice.
92. I wish to encourage efforts towards an overall reform of the
judiciary systems in line with the provisions of Article 2 of the
CEDAW asking states to “establish legal protection of the rights
of women on an equal basis with men and to ensure through competent
national tribunals and other public institutions the effective protection
of women against any act of discrimination”.
93. Ensuring a gender-responsive justice system requires the training
of judges, lawyers and police officers, in particular on gender-based
violence, in addition to awareness raising on women’s rights. I
believe that the Council of Europe can be of assistance also in
94. Finally, I wish to mention that ensuring justice for women
will be one of the key elements in determining the success or the
failure of the Arab Spring. An efficient transitional justice system
will require the inclusion and participation of women, as well as
the prosecution of the acts of violence suffered by women either
during peaceful demonstrations or situations of armed conflict,
irrespective of the perpetrators' political allegiance.
10. The involvement
of the Council of Europe
95. The Council of Europe is designing a policy to respond
to the events unfolding on the southern shore of the Mediterranean,
aimed at facilitating democratic political transition and promoting
good governance. The first Action Plans (“Neighbourhood Co-operation
Priorities”) for the implementation of the new policy concern Morocco
and Tunisia and should be agreed upon in the spring of 2012. Furthermore,
the European Union-Council of Europe Programme for strengthening
democratic reform in the Southern Neighbourhood was signed between
the European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy,
Mr Stefan Füle, and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe
in January 2012. Some of the programmes included in the Action Plans
with Morocco and Tunisia will be backed by the European Union, through
this programme. Contacts with other donors that might contribute
to the implementation of the programmes included in the Action Plans
have also been undertaken.
96. According to the policy of the Council of Europe towards neighbouring
regions, co-operation with the countries concerned shall be demand-driven,
which is in line with the wish of the interlocutors that I met during my
fact-finding visits to Morocco and Tunisia. In fact, the neighbourhood
co-operation priorities were decided in close consultation with
the countries concerned during a number of meetings and missions.
The action plans will build upon the co-operation that the
Council of Europe has already established with Morocco and Tunisia
in a wide range of fields.
occupies a prominent place within the co-operation priorities with
Morocco and Tunisia under Pillar 1 (Human rights), the objectives
of which include promoting women’s rights, participation of women
in political and public life, combating violence against women and
domestic violence. Co-operation activities under Pillar 2 (Rule
of law), especially those aimed at enhancing the independence, efficiency
and quality of justice, are also of great relevance because they
would have a direct impact on the enforcement of family law and
women’s access to justice.
Other actions which would be beneficial to the status of women
are those concerning freedom of expression and media independence
and pluralism, as the image of women conveyed by media has an impact on
the actual status of women in society.
activities are also envisaged in the field of fighting trafficking
of human beings. Both Morocco and Tunisia are affected as source,
destination and transit countries for trafficked persons. The legal
framework in the two countries needs to be reinforced and the institutional
and human resource dimensions of the law enforcement system should
99. In my opinion, at a future stage, Morocco and Tunisia should
seek accession to the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing
and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. Even
before this happens, as proposed in the Action Plans, a number of
co-operation activities could be organised in this area, in particular
as regards awareness training, exchange of good practice, training
of law enforcement officials and knowledge of the convention.
100. I believe that, on the intergovernmental side of the Council
of Europe, the two key structures that are instrumental to consolidate
co-operation with Morocco and Tunisia in the area of gender equality
and the status of women are the Venice Commission and the North-South
101. Morocco and Tunisia’s full membership of the Venice Commission
gives them direct access to its expertise. The Venice Commissionis in a position to provide advice
and assistance to Tunisia, which is in the process of drafting its
constitution. In addition, it could assist both Tunisia and Morocco
in drafting a number of pieces of legislation aimed at enforcing
their constitutions, such as laws on the functioning of the State’s powers,
electoral laws, rules of procedure of the elective bodies and many
others. In carrying out this task, the Venice Commission should
ensure consistency of national legislation with international instruments
and that the gender dimension is taken into account.
102. The North-South Centre is a tool for structured dialogue with
the southern countries of the Mediterranean. Engaged in activities
of intercultural dialogue and co-operation since its creation in
1989, the Centre saw its relevance confirmed and enhanced by the
events of the Arab Spring and contributed to formulating the priorities
of the Council of Europe for Morocco and Tunisia for the period
2012-2014. In May 2011, a new statutory resolution reaffirmed its
role as an interface between the Council of Europe and neighbouring
countries of the region interested in co-operating with the Organisation.
103. The Centre followed the developments of the Arab Spring with
great attention throughout 2011. The Rome Conference “Women as actors
of change in the Euro-Mediterranean region”, co-organised by the
North-South Centre and the Italian Parliament in October 2011, brought
together representatives of governments, international organisations,
parliamentarians, civil society, journalists and experts to discuss
not only the role of women as agents of political, economic and
personal changes but also the role of the media as an instrument for
the promotion of the role of women. In the final document of the
Conference, the participants agreed on the creation of a women’s
network for democratic governance, aimed at investing in capacity
building to promote women’s access to political life both at national
and local level; and on guaranteeing a yearly follow-up event to
the Conference. The conclusions of the conference laid the basis
for a set of activities for the period 2012-2014 labelled as “The
North-South Women’s empowerment process”.
104. Morocco became the first non-European member State of the
North-South Centre in 2009 and it would be advisable for other countries
in the region to follow its example and consider joining this partial
105. At this point in time, the North-South Centre is a key actor
in the development of this co-operation. I hope that the decision
of Germany to withdraw from this partial agreement will not affect
its operational capacity and that the Centre will continue receiving
an adequate level of funding for its activities.
11. Strengthening parliamentary
In 2009, the Assembly set up the status of partner
Two years later, with the Arab Spring,
this status became particularly relevant as it offered a framework
for structured co-operation with parliaments of non-member States
in neighbouring regions wishing to benefit from the Assembly’s experience in
democracy building and to participate in the political debate on
common challenges which transcend European boundaries. The status
of partner for democracy was granted to the Parliament of Morocco
in June 2011.
107. Gender equality is a core element in the context of the procedure
to obtain the status of partner for democracy. The request for such
a status should include an explicit reference to the aspiration
of the applicant parliament to embrace the values of the Council
of Europe, which are pluralist and gender parity-based democracy,
the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
It should also include a commitment to encourage balanced participation
of women and men in public and political life. Furthermore, the
parliamentary delegation enjoying partner for democracy status should,
insofar as the number of its members allows, be composed in such
a manner as to ensure a fair representation of the political parties
or groups in that parliament and to include at least the same percentage
of the underrepresented sex as is present in the parliament, and
in any case one representative of each sex.
108. The status of partner for democracy should not be a formal
title but a concrete instrument for closer co-operation. Partner
for democracy delegations should be given the possibility of fully
participating in the work of the Assembly, sharing ideas, exchanging
views and examples of best practices and organising joint initiatives and
events. In fact, they should be encouraged to put forward specific
proposals for joint statements and actions.
Equality between women and men and the status of women should
be at the core of the activities which make the status operational.
The decision that parliaments enjoying the status of partner for
democracy can appoint a member to participate in the Parliamentary
Network women free from violence is an example of involvement in
activities could be envisaged in areas such as the representation
of women in politics and their participation in public life, the
prevention and fight against trafficking in human beings or the
situation of women in rural areas.
110. Finally, the possibility that more countries from the region
may be interested in applying for the status should be explored.
This applies, first of all, to Tunisia, a country which has indicated
a clear commitment in the area of gender equality and with which
co-operation has already been established.
111. It has taken the space of a spring to change the
political colour of the governments in Egypt, Libya, Morocco and
Tunisia. It will take longer to build sound democracies, based on
the balanced participation of women and men and the recognition
that women and men have equal dignity and should enjoy the same human
rights. It may take even longer for mentalities to evolve and to
create the social and cultural conditions for the full empowerment
112. One year on from the beginning of the upheavals and demonstrations,
no concrete positive changes have affected the real life of women
on the ground: in Libya, women’s rights are not high on the agenda
of the Transitional National Council, and women are not adequately
represented therein; in Egypt, the status of women seems to be deteriorating,
judging from the way in which the harassment against women demonstrators
is met with impunity, the negligible representation of women in
the Constituent Assembly and the lack of specific proposals from
the political forces that have won the elections on how to improve
the protection of women’s rights; in Morocco and Tunisia, there
are respectively fewer women in government and in parliament than
before the Arab Spring.
113. However, it cannot be denied that, for all these countries,
the window of opportunity for women is still open: the constitutional
and legislative foundations are being laid down; this is the right
moment to ensure that equality between women and men is one of the
cornerstones on which the new legal systems are built.
114. Moreover, if the Arab Spring has not yet blossomed for women,
it has certainly spread good seeds in Morocco and Tunisia. In Morocco,
the new constitution enshrines the principle of equality between
women and men, makes it possible to introduce positive measures
to promote gender equality and establishes the precedence of international
human rights instruments over national law. This is the best basis,
at constitutional level, to develop a legal system which is protective
of women’s rights.
115. Moreover, Morocco and, even more clearly, Tunisia have expressed
a commitment to withdraw all reservations to the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
and to review domestic legislation accordingly. This would be an
unprecedented step amongst Arab countries, and would make it possible
to align with international human rights standards areas of law
that govern marriage, personal status and inheritance.
116. Although the electoral results of 2011 are disappointing as
far as women’s representation is concerned, both Morocco and Tunisia
have shown political will to introduce positive measures aimed at
enhancing women’s representation in parliament. The electoral law
used in Tunisia for the election to the Constituent Assembly was
very progressive not only by regional but also by European standards.
These good premises set out in Morocco and Tunisia should
serve as a model for other countries in the region and be followed
by further actions in the following months. Constitutional reform
is only the beginning in the path towards building democracies based
on equality between women and men. To achieve tangible changes it
will have to be followed by:
adoption of implementing legislation, which should take into account
the gender dimension;
- a deliberate decision to give priority to gender equality,
amongst many areas of law and policy that need reviewing and implementing;
- the active involvement of women in the institutions and
administration at all levels and in all fields;
- the introduction of positive measures to promote the representation
and participation of women;
- strengthening knowledge and implementation of the law;
- improving women’s access to justice, literacy and education,
in particular in rural areas;
- improving data collection, legal framework and awareness-raising
measures in the area of violence against women;
- strengthening dialogue with civil society and women’s
118. We should be also aware that, despite the introduction of
legal and policy measures, socially constructed perceptions and
traditional values, shared by men and women alike, prevent people
from fully integrating the principle of equality in their personal
behaviour, and create invisible barriers to women’s empowerment.
This is one more reason for the political forces who have vowed
their commitment to promote women’s rights to show the example,
and put women forward for leadership positions. This will encourage
more women to come forward in other fields and contribute to the
evolution of mentalities.
119. The countries of the southern shore of the Mediterranean will
never become members of the Council of Europe, as they lack the
basic requirement of being European. However, the Council of Europe
has an interest in contributing to building, also in its neighbourhood,
an area of political stability sharing the same values and the same
commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It should,
therefore, make its expertise available, primarily to Morocco and
Tunisia, through country-specific actions and programmes which take
into account national features and the state of advancement of women’s
rights, while seeking contacts with the other countries of the region.
Similarly, structured forms of partnership – such as the status
of partner for democracy with the Assembly – can but facilitate
120. The Council of Europe can contribute to the success of the
Arab Spring if the States of the southern shore of the Mediterranean
wish to draw from its expertise, experience and tools. Relations
should be based on mutual respect and sensitivity as regards the
cultural and religious context. However, it should be clear from the
outset that the Council of Europe upholds universal values and defends
the universality and indivisibility of human rights, of which women’s
rights are an integral part. Cultural and religious sensitivity
will never turn into cultural and religious relativism. There can
be no bargaining over women’s rights.