• Prodded by Tunisian advocacy organizations and assisted by international legal experts, the Tunisian parliament passed a law in late July not only to curb violence against women but also to introduce measures to protect them and provide help to those who have suffered abuse. It is the first such law passed by Tunisian legislators, building on earlier personal status laws dating to the 1950s, which made Tunis a leader in the Arab world in protecting women’s rights.
The new law, which UN Women and other international organizations helped Tunisians write, is being described as broadly comprehensive, going beyond criminalizing physical acts.
“In addition to physical violence, the law recognizes other forms of violence against women and girls, including economic, sexual, political and psychological,” UN Women said in a statement on Aug.3. Further, the law eliminates impunity for perpetrators of abuse and enables women to have access to legal services and psychological assistance.
The broad definition of violence and the provisions of the Tunisian law to prevent it and deal with its aftermath, are relatively unusual, since laws against violence in many countries have often been limited to dealing mostly with physical abuses, emphasizing law enforcement and access to fair judicial procedures. Men who are charged with violent acts were often acquitted, arguing that they were motivated — and supported — by cultural, religious or social norms.
Tunisian women had been protected by personal status legislation, which legally abolished polygamy and established rules against child marriage, as well as procedures for obtaining a divorce. However, pockets of conservative Muslim political and social movements still exist in Tunisia, and the vote for the new law was not unanimous in the Tunisian parliament.
Human Rights Watch, which welcomed the Tunisian law, calling it “a landmark step for women’s rights,” nevertheless suggested that there will have to be “adequate funding and political will” among officials if the new measures are to be carried out.
“Tunisia’s new law provides women with the measures necessary to seek protection from acts of violence by their husbands, relatives, and others,” Amna Guellali, Tunisia office director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The government should now fund and support institutions to translate this law into genuine protection.”
• After the Trump administration’s decision to gut global family planning assistance and hew to the strictest interpretation of anti-abortion provisions in US foreign assistance, the International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion has picked up the theme of the Sustainable Development Goals to call for wide participation in the Sept. 28 International Safe Abortion Day 2017. The campaign has adopted the hashtag #leavingnoonebehind.
A news release from the advocacy group, whose members include 1,200 organizations and individuals in 117 countries in numerous fields, from public officials to academics and journalists, noted that the SDGs “have made no mention of safe abortion or abortion rights, even though sexual and reproductive health and rights are very much in there this time round.” (The Millennium Development Goals did not initially include these rights.)
“By using this theme, we aim to make a statement about the importance of keeping abortion rights visible and part of the international conversation,” the group said. It hopes to collect and exchange items drawn from social media around the world about what participants may be planning.
• Two self-help projects in Africa are introducing women to new ways to take more control of their lives. In Burkina Faso, L’Occitane, the French cosmetic company known for its use of natural ingredients, is working with USAID, the Global Shea Alliance and other partners to help women increase their earnings from collecting shea nuts to make shea butter, the base of L’Occitane hand and body lotions. The indigenous trees that produce the nuts are found mostly in the Sahel region of Africa.
In recent decades, the luxury cosmetics company had been experimenting with improving the shea butter once extracted and processed locally, which did not at first meet French standards. With development programs, artisanal production was enhanced, and now the company reports that it is buying shea butter from five local cooperatives that together have 15,000 members. In 2011, L’Occitane bought more than 500 tons of shea butter from local women, who invest 2 percent of the income from sales in a fund that has, among other projects, established group health services.
• In Sierra Leone, a photography project to help women document and buttress their court cases when they are victims of violence has been introduced by an American lawyer, Lydia Brooke Mayer, who calls her program Change Through Focus. Working as a paralegal for a local NGO, Timap for Justice in Sierra Leone, Mayer drew on her experience as a former prosecutor in domestic violence cases in the United States as she looked for ways to help women in this West African country, where the incidence of domestic violence was high.
“I concluded that photographic evidence had been a major contributor to the success of my cases in the US, and identified that it was not readily available to the paralegals I would be working with in rural Sierra Leone,” Mayer wrote on her project’s website, www.changethroughfocus.org. “As photographic evidence is already used in Sierra Leone, where it can be easily produced, there was never any question as to whether or not the photographs would be useful,” she said. “The only question was how to make it an accessible tool.”
Her solution was an updated version of a Polaroid camera that operates on batteries and produces digital images that can be stored for printing as needed. “I brought one with me to a rural office for a test run and confirmed it to be a most productive tool for rapidly and regularly generating images for the paralegals,” she wrote. “It is from this experience that Change Through Focus has evolved.”
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Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.