By Laura Fernández Palomo
Tunisia, Dec 15 (EFE).- Ahead of Tunisia’s legislative elections on Saturday, the first to be held since a new electoral law was introduced, one thing is certain: the future parliament will have a minimal representation of women.
The reform introduced in September by president Kais Saied has undermined the previously protected principle of gender equality.
Among the more than 1,000 individual candidates who are running in the upcoming poll, only 11% are women.
In response, Feminist Dynamics — a group made up of nine feminist organizations — is calling for a boycott of the elections which will result in a parliament that will be “dominated by men.”
“The new electoral law will consolidate patriarchy, nepotism, and tribalism,” Nabila Hamza, a member of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD), told EFE.
In previous elections, women had managed to gain a foothold in the country’s political scene, reaching 47% representation in city councils after the 2018 municipal elections.
In September, Saied unilaterally declared the new bill that omits the principle of equal gender representation in elected assemblies, which Hamza said was “one of the main achievements for women’s rights after the 2011 revolution.”
In 2014, 68 women won a seat in parliament, “the highest female representation compared to other countries in the Middle East and North Africa region,” according to Human Rights Watch.
Three years later, an amendment was introduced that requires political parties and coalitions to have equal representation in local elections as well.
Since the reform, however, gender parity has been superseded by the requirement for candidates to secure 400 endorsements to stand for election.
“The sponsorship mechanism involving a collective of 400 endorsements introduces technical confusion, especially for women within rural areas, where political networks are favorable to men,” Hamza said.
Another cause of concern for feminist organizations stemming from the new bill is the abolition of public financing in favor of self-financing and private lobbying, which favors candidates already in office and hinders the integration of women into positions of power.
The lack of debate and consensus on the new law has encouraged criticism from civil society and political parties, which have dissociated themselves from the electoral process.
It is a similar situation to how the constitution was pushed through in July after a referendum in which more than 70% of registered voters abstained.
The national organization Aswat Nissa (Women’s Voices) has also called for the law to be repealed, stating “that there is no real democracy without the effective participation of women and without strengthening their position in the electoral process”.
A “very serious” step backwards, said Hamza, “in a country that is trying to build a democracy”.EFE