Saturday, October 23, 2021

Tunisia names its first woman Prime Minister amid uphill struggle to secure female rights

Tunisia has named its first woman Prime Minister, as the country returns to power after the Islamist-led government was toppled last year, one year after the assassination of opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi.

Riha Abraibi’s appointment reflects the struggle underway in the North African country, between secular revolutionaries and hard-liners within the ruling Islamist Ennahda Party.

Under Tunisia’s interim government, women were allowed to vote for the first time, but their rights are limited. Legislation that guarantees women equality with men in other areas, such as issues such as inheritance, remains blocked in parliament.

Abraibi served as chief of staff to then Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi between 1989 and 1991. She led the Qatari-based ministry of state security. She replaces Habib Essid, the outgoing premier, who stepped down this week after months of on-off protests by the opposition.

Under Tunisia’s interim government, women were allowed to vote for the first time, but their rights are limited. Legislation that guarantees women equality with men in other areas, such as issues such as inheritance, remains blocked in parliament.

Romain Gezzan, a pollster who works with Dawa Tunisia, an organization that conducts polls and research on religious topics in Tunisia, said many Tunisians want to see the country recognize women’s rights, but, as in other Western countries, “people do not see a higher place for women in public institutions and society at large.”

Women currently make up 9 percent of the population of the country of about 10 million.

Last week, lawmakers passed a law protecting women from violence in public, a measure that rights activists said was vital to uphold Tunisia’s liberal-minded reputation.

In March, a court sentenced a man to two years in prison for opening fire at a house in which his ex-wife, a woman who married another man, was present.

A new government will need to address Tunisia’s economy as well. The country is in fragile economic health, with workers on public sector jobs, trade unions who shut down the economy last year, and high unemployment in a country that has a youth unemployment rate of more than 40 percent.

Tunisia has been gripped by political turmoil for the past year since Brahmi’s assassination, and two successful mass protests later, in December, and February, ended with Ennahda taking power once again. It is a similar situation to Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood and opposition groups finally declared a truce after months of political deadlock.

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