In rural Tunisia, inheritance reform offers women rare boost

1 / 4
In the hamlets of fertile Jendouba, many men are anxious to safeguard their privilege. (AFP)
2 / 4
Like most of the Muslim world, Tunisia's inheritance laws mean men get double what women receive. (AFP)
3 / 4
A Tunisian farmer works in a vegetables field on Dec. 20, 2018 in Tunisia's northwestern province of Jendouba, about 185 kilometres west of the capital Tunis. (AFP)
4 / 4
Tunisian farmer Naziha Maaroufi, 50, works in a pea field on December 20, 2018 in Tunisia's northwestern province of Jendouba, about 185 kilometres west of the capital Tunis. (AFP)
Updated 25 January 2019

In rural Tunisia, inheritance reform offers women rare boost

  • The bill proposes that the inheritances of men and women be made equal, unless the person making the will goes through clear legal channels to state otherwise
  • The legislation has unleashed passionate debate in families, on television shows and among political parties

JENDOUBA, Tunisia: Tunisian divorcee Latifa counts herself lucky — she has a modest home that boasts a neat vegetable garden, a fig tree, and a pomegranate tree, along with a panoramic view of neighboring farmland.
“Without this land that my father gave me, I would be nothing,” she told AFP, happy to have escaped a violent marriage with her two teenage children in Jendouba, northeastern Tunisia.
“I guess it’s part of my inheritance,” Latifa smiled hopefully, surveying a homestead that she built by careful use of the 10 dinars ($3.5, three euros) per day she earns as a laborer on nearby farms.
“But here it is rare for a woman to inherit land.”
A bill that would equalize inheritance rights between men and women has created debate here in Tunisia’s countryside, where gender discrimination is the strongest and its consequences the most disastrous.
In common with other Muslim nations, Tunisian inheritance law currently provides that a son receive twice as much as a daughter from a father’s estate.
When her father dies, Latifa is counting on her three brothers to let her stay on the small parcel of land she occupies.
They “owe me that — I am the oldest, (and) I didn’t go to school because I had to take care of them,” said the 48-year-old, who also has four sisters.
Even applying the current law’s 2:1 formula should safeguard Latifa’s future, since the land already granted to her by her father is less than the roughly 3,500 square meters (0.35 hectares) she is entitled to out of a total estate of 40,000 square meters.
But in rural areas, the current law is rarely applied, so male heirs often end up taking considerably more than double their female counterparts.
Latifa’s neighbor Skhyara Bouslemi is less fortunate.
Skhyara has five brothers, including several who have built homes and paddocks on family land.
The land is too small for everyone to have a share.
“There is nothing left for my sisters and I to take — what could we do with our share? It’s just 13 square meters,” she sighed.
Skhyara works all day to feed her children and her husband, a sick carpenter.
Latifa has sympathy with Skhyara and others whose brothers leave them with little or nothing.
“Often, the brothers tell their father it would be better if you give us the inheritance to ensure that it remains in the family,” she said.
“A woman who makes her claim is silenced by a small sum of money... (or) a basket of produce from time to time,” Latifa lamented.
She hopes — without daring to believe — that the situation will change, thanks to legislation pushed by Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi.
The bill proposes that the inheritances of men and women be made equal, unless the person making the will goes through clear legal channels to state otherwise.
The proposed law change will soon be discussed in committee, before being submitted to a plenary session in parliament.
The legislation has unleashed passionate debate in families, on television shows and among political parties.
It has also reopened a fissure on the place of religion in Tunisian society, as tensions rise ahead of elections later this year.
In the hamlets of fertile Jendouba, many men are anxious to safeguard their privilege.
“I work this land — it’s normal that I have more than my sister,” said Mehrez Sakhri, who owns one of the farms Latifa works on.
“It is what our grandfathers said” should happen.
“This is the way the land has been passed on. Perhaps in 2040, things could change — but not now,” Sakhri added, as his workers harvested peas.
Mehrez’s father Mohammed is less resistant to change.
Mohammed said he would like to share the family’s 30 hectares equally between his sons and his only daughter, who he “loves very much.”
And making inheritance law equal is not trespassing on religious matters, he added.
“Many people are greedy. They cite the Qur’an to demand a two-thirds inheritance, but when it comes to paying the 10 percent” nobody bothers, Mohammed said, referring to an obligation in the Muslim holy text to pay a tenth of one’s income as alms to the poor.
For activist and lawyer Sana Ben Achour, the unequal inheritance law is rooted in a “patriarchal tradition,” which is sometimes dressed up in religious terms, leaving women vulnerable.
“In large parts of Tunisia, women don’t even get the small share of inheritance that they’re entitled to — especially when it comes to land and homes,” she said.
Without receiving their share “they can only work, so when a woman retires or is sick and has no income, she falls into a precarious situation.”


Iraqi MP dies of COVID-19 as cases jump 600%

Updated 16 min 7 sec ago

Iraqi MP dies of COVID-19 as cases jump 600%

  • Ghida Kambash, 46, was a three-time MP from Baquba
  • Iraq’s health ministry has declared around 70,000 coronavirus cases, of whom nearly 3,000 have died and 40,000 recovered

BAGHDAD: Iraqi lawmaker Ghida Kambash died Friday after contracting the novel coronavirus, parliament announced, its first member to succumb to the virus as its spread ramps up across the country.
The 46-year-old was a three-time MP from Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, and helped pass laws on education reform and social welfare.
She leaves behind four children.
Last month, parliament speaker Mohammed Al-Halbussi said up to 20 deputies were confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19.
In total, Iraq’s health ministry has declared around 70,000 coronavirus cases, of whom nearly 3,000 have died and 40,000 recovered.
After seeing a relatively slow spread in the first five months of 2020, cases spiked 600 percent in June alone, according to the International Rescue Committee.
“The rate at which COVID-19 is spreading through Iraq is extremely alarming,” said Christine Petrie, IRC’s country director.
The country’s health system — already worn down by years of war and poor investments — has been overwhelmed by the rising numbers.
Protective equipment, respirators and even hospital beds are all running low, forcing authorities to turn expo centers, stadiums and hotels into coronavirus wards and confinement centers.
Particularly stark is the “severe shortage of oxygen,” according to the World Health Organization, which recently airlifted 300 oxygen concentrators to help Iraqi hospitals cope.
Aid has also been donated from foreign countries, most recently Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the US.
Still, footage shot in hospitals in Iraq’s south shows patients struggling to breathe without access to respirators as their family members berate health staff.
Health Minister Dr. Hassan Salman was in the southern province of Diwaniyah on Friday to inspect hospital conditions there.
Iraq relaxed its curfew measures in recent weeks after imposing a strict country-wide lockdown in late March.
The restrictions hit its fledgling private sector hard, with an IRC survey finding that 87 percent of Iraqis were out of work as a result of the lockdown and 61 percent were already going into debt.
“Once things stabilize there will be a lot of work to do to help people get back on their feet,” said Petrie.
“Their loss of livelihoods will have taken a heavy toll on people’s mental health, which was already in a fragile state after decades of conflict and instability.”