Just when you thought the Arab Spring had turned into a cold autumn…
Tunisia; last week your leaders took a great step for human rights and the environment. I am definitely putting you back on my destination list for places to re-visit!
Background; I was among the many who signed petitions, supported campaigns and followed the news updates of the early uprises of the Arab Spring when it first broke the surface. However, since 3 important female leaders received the Nobel Peace Price 2 years ago, we haven´t heard too many good news about the battles, losses and victories for the brave women of the Middle East and North African region.
But today, reading the latest update from Tunisia, my heart did some double beats! Following the revolution and thanks to some brave decision makers, the new Tunisian Constitution is quite unique! So while the new Norwegian government is taking small steps to reduce equality & women´s rights, its good to know that other countries are moving in the right direction.
Tunisia´s key achievements to be inspired by;
- Guaranteed equality between men and women
- A constitutional mandate for environmental protection, only the third country in the world to do so
- A declaration that health care is a human right, with preventative care and treatment for every citizen
- A democracy with civil laws that respects freedom of religion
- An established right to due process and protection from torture
Not only does it support the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, but it specifically states that the Tunisian state shall protect women´s existing rights and seek to support and further develop them. The government also takes on the responsibility to guarantee equal opportunities between men and women in all fields(!), and to achieve gender equality in the government. Not to mention, the state shall also take required measures to eliminate violence against women.
I am speechless, in awe, full of respect and admiration of this fantastic development! I want to applaud all the brave women (and men) who initiated the revolution and planted the first seeds of change, enabling this fantastic development.
A warm and happy hug & have a great weekend!
P.S.: For those of you who are a little bit more interested in human rights & environment than average, here are three highlights describing some of the most progressive of these guarantees:
1. Climate change Given the conservative attempts to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency and deny the very existence of climate change, it would seem improbable at best that the U.S. will mention conservation efforts in the Constitution anytime soon. But Tunisia has done just that. “Contribution to a sound climate and the right to a sound and balanced environment shall be guaranteed,” the constitution promises. “The state shall provide the necessary means to eliminate environmental pollution.” Given Tunisia’s location in the Maghreb, with portions of the country within the Sahara Desert, the state also is given custody over ensuring the “conservation and rational use of water” as one of its duties.
2. Health care Health care policy-making in Tunisia’s capital of Tunis has also managed to leapfrog that in Washington as of Monday. “Health is a right for every person,” the document announces, declaring that Tunisia shall “guarantee preventative health care and treatment for every citizen and provide the means necessary to ensure the safety and good quality of health services.” Even as the U.S. begins to implement the Affordable Care Act, and Republican governorsblock the implementation of the portions that expand Medicaid, the new Tunisian constitution promises “free health care for those without support and those with limited income.”
3. Women’s rights The new constitution also goes further than the American version in explicitly promoting women’s rights, a goal of the now-dormant push to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. “The State shall commit to protecting women’s achieved rights and seek to support and develop them,” the constitution reads. “The State shall guarantee equal opportunities between men and women in the bearing of all the various responsibilities in all fields.”
The draft version also committed the government to try to balance the number of men and women serving in elected councils, which would far outstrip the current 82-17 split between the two in the U.S. Congress last year. Given thestruggle to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act in the United States last year, it would seem that Tunisia has American beat there as well. “The state shall the necessary measures to eliminate violence against women,” the constitution guarantees.
4. Workers’ rights Tunisia’s laborers get a huge boost under the new constitution, particularly in comparison to their American counterparts. Under the terms of the document, the right to form trade unions in guaranteed along with all of the powers that grants laborers — including the ability to strike. Members of the army and security services are the one exception to this rule, while unions and all other political parties and associations are required to reject violence and abide by all areas of the law.
The constitution also promises that all citizens, male and female alike, shall “have the right to adequate working conditions and to a fair wage.” As the debate over raising the minimum wage kicks off anew in the U.S. — and women are still paid far less than their male counterparts for similar jobs — the Tunisian guarantees look almost idyllic.