Tunisian female activists have formed the group October 24 Front to defend women's rights and freedom in the North African country. On Wednesday the group gathered to protest the encroaching Islamism which they fear will replace secular values, following the victory of the Islamic Ennahada party in Tunisia's election.
In spite of Ennahada's promise to remain moderate, many women are not convinced that changes will not limit their freedom. Protester Madiha Bel Haj said
"We’re here to denounce all forms of extremism and bans on women's liberties. We want a constitution that respects women’s rights and doesn’t roll back the advances we’ve made.” [i](Alarabiya)
Some women have grave concerns over the intentions of Ennahda leader Rashid Ghannouchi to make changes to the Personal Status Law, which he promised not to tamper with prior to the election. Since the election Ghannouchi has made statements indicating the ban on polygamy may be lifted, one of the first changes that neighbouring Libya announced as it celebrated freedom. Activist Olfa al-Ojaili said
"Ennahda deceived Tunisians when it announced the law will stay the same. They put on the democracy robe during the elections and took it off the moment they won.”
Ghannouchi told Reuters
"The principle of equality is more equally applied in Ennahda than in the secular parties" adding "The secularist women won’t monopolize the definition of women’s rights."
The issue of the headscarf is continually raised as secularist women have no intention of it being forced upon them. Demonstrations held in October were against the forced wearing of the niqab and an end to intimidating radical campaigns that threatened to undermine women's freedoms. Tunisia Live
reported that women gathered to protest against the niqab as it is not traditional Tunisian dress. Many women are keen to retain the traditional Tunisian outfits of sefsari and melya, but consider the niqab an alienating outfit.
As a revival of Islamism sweeps through the region, encompassing Egypt and Libya, Tunisian women are prepared to stand up for their rights and demand their freedom.