Women faced barriers to their economic and political participation, and certain laws adversely affected women. Despite these challenges, the government broke with past taboos and sought to change societal norms on topics such as domestic abuse and violence against women and children.
Rape and Domestic Violence: Although prohibited by law, rape, including spousal rape, remained a serious problem. There was no comprehensive or consolidated database on the incidence of sexual violence, but NGO groups claimed rape continued to be underreported.
The penal code prohibits rape, and the government generally enforced this law. There were, however, no reported prosecutions of spousal rape. Sexual assaults accompanied by acts of violence or threats with a weapon are punishable by death. For other cases of rape, the prescribed punishment is life imprisonment. If the victim is under age 20, penalties can be more severe (see section 6, Children). Nevertheless, societal and cultural pressures often dissuaded victims from reporting sexual assault.
Rape remained a taboo and underreported subject. Convictions for sexual violence were far below the number of actual incidents. A 2011 study by the National Office of Family and Population concluded that 15.7 percent of women ages 18-64 claimed to be victims of sexual violence.
Laws prohibiting domestic violence provide penalties for assault committed by a spouse or family member that are double those of an unrelated individual for the same crime, but enforcement was rare, and domestic violence remained a serious problem. The government and the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women reported in 2012 that 47 percent of women suffered from physical or verbal abuse.
There were no government public education programs on domestic violence, including rape. The first government-run domestic violence shelter and hotline opened in December 2012 on the outskirts of Tunis. Advocates called for similar shelters in other parts of the country.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was a problem, although there was no data to measure its extent. Victims of sexual harassment are required to file a complaint in criminal court, where the allegations are then investigated, although bureaucratic problems in securing convictions occurred. According to the criminal code, the penalty for sexual harassment is one year in prison and a 3,000 dinar ($1,817) fine. Civil society groups criticized the law on harassment as too vague and susceptible to abuse. There were no statistics available on the number of abusers prosecuted, convicted, or punished for sexual harassment.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of government interference in the right of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Women had free access to contraception, and according to the UN Population Fund, an estimated 52 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 used a modern method of contraception. In collaboration with NGOs, the government maintained its policy of keeping the national birthrate low through public awareness campaigns. The government provided essential health care for women, including skilled attendance during childbirth and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, although some rural women did not have access to these services. Several registered domestic NGOs also cared for HIV-infected individuals.
Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status, and the government generally enforced these prohibitions, although discrimination against women occurred due to reliance on customary law and social norms. Codified civil law is based on the Napoleonic code, although on occasion judges drew upon interpretations of sharia (Islamic law) as a basis for customary law in family and inheritance disputes. Most property acquired during marriage, including property acquired solely by the wife, was held in the name of the husband. Customary law based on sharia prohibits Muslim women from marrying outside their religion. Application of sharia inheritance law resulted in discrimination against women, although some families avoided the application of sharia by executing sales contracts between parents and children to ensure that daughters received shares of property equal to those of sons. There was a double standard in sharia inheritance law based on gender and religion: non-Muslim women and their Muslim husbands may not inherit from each other. The government considers all children of those marriages to be Muslim and forbids those children from inheriting from their mothers.
Female citizens can transmit citizenship to their children regardless of the father’s citizenship.
The law explicitly requires equal pay for equal work, and the government generally enforced it, but the law also allows some female employees in the public sector to receive a pro-rated salary for part-time work. The government defended the law as allowing women to balance family and professional life, but some women’s rights advocates believed treating women and men differently under the law was an infringement of women’s rights. Societal and cultural barriers significantly reduced women’s participation in the formal labor force, in particular in managerial positions. Women in the private sector earned on average one-quarter less than men for similar work.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: The ratio of boy-to-girl births was 107 to 100. There was no information on any government efforts to address this imbalance.