Following recent demands for increased rights for Tunisian women, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi revoked a circuit court ruling September 16th that had barred Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men and increased their rights to inheritance. Many have celebrated the changes, calling them a step towards full marital equality and a win for feminism.
"This is recognition for women and what they have always given to the country," said Bochra Belhaj Hmida, a female politician who has served in the Tunisian parliament since 2014.
The change comes on the heels of the North African nation's recent outlawing of a legal provision that allowed convicted rapists to be pardoned by marrying their victim.
Essebsi had previously called for the reform to women's inheritance rights during a speech at an International Women's Day event in August.
"It is necessary to develop personal status laws in such a way to promote equality and to keep pace with modern legislation and changing modern times," Essebi said.
Many Tunisian nationals, at home and abroad, welcomed Tunisia's progressive, new legislation.
"This is a really good step; you're not marrying someone for their religion," said Dr. Meleke Chekili, a French professor at the University of Southern California who still holds Tunisian citizenship.
Chekili says a "double standard" existed before the law was changed.
"Women would marry non-Muslim men but the men would convert, not for faith, but for the woman. There is always a way to bypass these laws."
According to Tunisian politician Bochra Belhaj Hmida, the old circuit law was contrary to Tunisian law.
"The repeal of the circular provision was necessary because it was contrary to a law which does not take into account religious disparity as an impediment to marriage" Hmida said, referencing the New York convention which Tunisia signed in 1972. The convention treats women and men equally in regards to all conditions of marriage.
Hmida didn't declare an allegiance to a political party until after Tunisia's 2014 revolution, but she says that she was always politically engaged and fighting for women's rights — through unions, feminist groups and human rights organisations.
"Now that I am in politics and in the power, I have become a direct actor in making change," Hmida said. "With the action taken, feminism has expanded and diversified and is not the privilege of a few committed intellectuals."
Yet despite the win for progressives, Tunisian and French national Patricia Jebali says the response in the more religiously conservative Southern regions of Tunisia have been negative.
"Everyone I have talked to, including both men and women, is against this law," said Jebali. "The Quran is their main reason."
Although known for its secularism, Tunisia's marital and inheritance laws were long in line with Islamic Law, which prohibits women from marrying men outside of the Islamic faith and for solely being entitled to ⅓ of the familial wealth, as opposed to men who are permitted the right to marry women of any of the Abrahamic faith and are entitled to ½ of the familial inheritance.
"I even heard that if a woman receives 50 percent of an inheritance because of the law, she will not take them and under pressure from the brothers she will give it back," Jebali said. "The only law that is respected in the south is the Quran."
Though the newly found equality has passed through Tunisia's political chambers, Tunisian citizens will have the final say in what degree it is accepted and implemented.
Still, Hmida remains optimistic for women's rights in the North African country, especially under the leadership of President Essebsi.
"Essebsi has responded to expectations of the hundreds of thousands of women who voted for him and are waiting for an improvement in their social status," she said. "He has always thought that women are going to change Tunisia and save it."