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Equal Inheritance Shares on the Horizon in the Arab World?

A bit of good women’s rights news has greeted us to end 2018. The Tunisian Cabinet recently approved a bill that will require male and female heirs be given equal inheritance shares. This is a first for the country, and is one of the first proposed bills of its kind in the Arab world. While the bill must now go to the Tunisian parliament for debate, this is still a victory for women’s land rights.

We have seen in our work that equal inheritance rights on paper do not always translate to equal rights in practice, but good laws in support of women’s rights are an important first step. Tunisia has a way to go on both fronts, but may be headed in a good direction even though there is still opposition. In fact, a survey conducted last year showed that 63% of Tunisians, including 52% of Tunisian women, oppose equal inheritance shares. Many Muslim clerics in Tunisia oppose equal inheritance rights as well. Vocal opposition remains a reality.

However, the Tunisian Feminist Association, some local NGOs, and secular activists all support the bill. We see an effort to eradicate discrimination against women, to reduce barriers to the equal exercise of rights, and to increase economic independence for women. We see a bill being introduced for debate when five or ten years ago such legislation would never have been crafted.

These victories might seem small, but these incremental changes lead, ultimately, to greater empowerment of women. We applaud the Tunisian Cabinet for taking this step in the fight for women to gain equal rights to land, resources, and inheritance.

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