After the 2011 Tunisian revolution, gender parity in elected assemblies was mandated in Article 16 of the 2011 electoral law. It was then enshrined under Article 46 of the 2014 Constitution. Under the law, Tunisia’s electoral commission requires each party to run an equal number of male and female candidates in Constituent Assembly elections. It further stipulates that political parties alternate between men and women on their candidate lists from top to bottom. In 2017, the electoral law was amended to require that half of candidate lists were led by women.1
In 2011, the Independent High Authority for Elections was established in Tunisia to organize and supervise elections and referendums, ensuring the realization of the goals of the revolution, namely overcoming socioeconomic marginalization and corruption in government. The Independent High Authority consisted of an expert committee and a council, where 33 percent of experts and 23 percent of council members were women. Under pressure from feminist associations within the High Authority and civil society, a gender parity law was adopted for the first democratic and transparent elections in Tunisia in 2011. It stipulated that parliament candidate lists include an equal number of men and women, with an alternation of candidates’ names between men and women on the ballot paper. Parity between women and men on the candidate list became an indispensable condition for the lists to be accepted.2
In 2014, parity between men and women in elected assemblies was consecrated in Article 46 of the Constitution,3 and candidate gender parity was extended to local elections (municipalities and regional councils).4
In 2017, an amendment to the 2014 law stipulated that the presidency of candidate lists should also be led equally by men and women.5 This amendment came after the realization that gender parity in candidate lists had not resulted in gender parity in the presidency of lists; in 2011 only 7 percent of candidate lists were chaired by women, and the 2011 and 2014 laws had only increased this figure to 12 percent.6
Legal sanctions for non-compliance played a role in the effective implementation of gender parity in various levels of government. Lists that do not follow the parity law are rejected (unless the number of candidates on the list is odd). As parity cannot be achieved with an odd number of forwarded candidates, an exception was made in these cases, allowing for an extra male name.7
As one of the few Arab nations to implement gender parity in its voting system, Tunisia has led the Arab world in advancing women’s rights in meaningful and inclusive political participation.8
Following the passing of the 2014 gender parity law, female participation increased to 34 percent (i.e., 73 of the 217 deputies) up from 27 percent in 2009.9 The proportion of female parliamentarians in 2014 exceeded the minimum critical mass of 30 percent recommended by the United Nations and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and ensured Tunisia had the highest female representation in parliament among countries in the Middle East and North Africa region for that period.10
Following the extension of candidate gender parity to local elections in 2014 and the amendment of the electoral law in 2017 to ensure gender equality among the heads of candidate lists, women were elected into 47 percent of available seats at the 2018 municipal elections; a remarkable progress made by Tunisia after nine years of absence of local elections.11
The support of candidate gender parity by the Tunisian population is evident in the outcome of a 2018 Afrobarometer survey,12 which revealed that 67 percent of respondents agreed with the assertion that “women should have equal opportunities for election to political office as men,” a significant increase from the 58 percent recorded in 2013. Public support for female politicians in Tunisia remains high at 67 percent as of 2018.13
The gender parity law did not entirely facilitate women in Tunisia to overcome the barriers to their political participation, such as rigid gender roles, political violence, and the failure of political campaigns to engage women. Consequently, the 2019 legislative elections witnessed a decrease in the percentage of women in parliament to 23 percent. However, there was a resurgence in 2021, as the representation of women in parliament rose to 26 percent.14
In Tunisia, the implementation of the gender parity system has translated into a remarkable increase in the number of women represented in the legislative branch (Parliament), though the representation of women in the national Tunisian government remains limited. By 2020, the representation of women in government reached a figure of 29 percent.15 And by 2021, Tunisia had elected its first female prime minister—a first for the Arab region.
However, constitutional changes in 2022 introduced a new electoral law that eliminates the principle of gender parity, which may limit the prospects of women’s participation.16 Regardless, the gender parity law remains an example of success between 2011 and 2022, not just in terms of the increase of numbers in women’s representation, but also in terms of the role played by women’s associations in campaigning and supporting the implementation of the law.
Portrait of Mehrezia Laabidi, Parliamentarian and former Vice-President of the Parliament, Tunisia,” Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown, licensed via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
- 1. A party is mandated to present several lists for candidacy and a list for each region. Half the lists should be led by women. Assigning someone the lead of the list highlights the importance of this person, and might increase their chances of being voted for.
- 2. Ben Jémia, M. “Etat des lieux des inégalités et de la discrimination à l’encontre des femmes & des filles dans la législation Tunissienne,” March 2021, https://arabstates.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/2022-08/Etat%20des%20lieux%20des%20ine%CC%81galite%CC%81s%20et%20de%20la%20discrimination%20a%CC%80%20l%E2%80%99encontre%20des%20femmes%20%26%20des%20filles%20dans%20la%20le%CC%81gislation%20tunisienne.pdf.
- 3. Government of Tunisia, “Tunisia’s Constitution of 2014,” April 2020, https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Tunisia_2014.pdf.
- 4. Ben Jémia, M. “Etat des lieux des inégalités et de la discrimination à l’encontre des femmes & des filles dans la législation Tunissienne,” March 2021, https://arabstates.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/2022-08/Etat%20des%20lieux%20des%20ine%CC%81galite%CC%81s%20et%20de%20la%20discrimination%20a%CC%80%20l%E2%80%99encontre%20des%20femmes%20%26%20des%20filles%20dans%20la%20le%CC%81gislation%20tunisienne.pdf.
- 5. IDEA, “Gender Quotas Database, Tunisia,” 2023, https://www.idea.int/data-tools/data/gender-quotas/country-view/284/35.
- 6. OECD, ”La Place des Femmes dans la Vie Politique Locale en Tunisie,” 2018, https://www.oecd.org/mena/governance/la-place-des-femmes-dans-la-vie-politique-locale-tunisie.pdf.
- 7. IDEA, “Gender Quotas.”
- 8. IRI, “She Votes Tunisia: Understanding Barriers to Women Political Participation,” 2020, https://www.iri.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/shevotes_tunisia_report_final.pdf.
- 9. Chellali, S. “Tunisia Tramples Gender Parity Ahead of Parliamentary Elections,” HRW, November 2, 2022. https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/11/02/tunisia-tramples-gender-parity-ahead-parliamentary-elections.
- 10. Ben Jémia, M. “Etat des Lieux des Inégalités et de la Discrimination à L’encontre des Femmes & des Filles dans la Législation Tunissienne,” March 2021, https://arabstates.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/2022-08/Etat%20des%20lieux%20des%20ine%CC%81galite%CC%81s%20et%20de%20la%20discrimination%20a%CC%80%20l%E2%80%99encontre%20des%20femmes%20%26%20des%20filles%20dans%20la%20le%CC%81gislation%20tunisienne.pdf.
- 11. Wegner, E, & Cavatorta, F., “Revisiting the Islamist–Secular divide: Parties and voters in the Arab world,” International Political Science Review, 40(4), (2018), https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0192512118784225.
- 12. Yerkes, S.& Mackeown, S., “ What Tunisia Can Teach the United States about Women’s Equality,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 30, 2018, Carnegie, https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/11/30/what-tunisia-can-teach-united-states-about-women-s-equality-pub-77850.
- 13. WorldBank Data, “Proportion of Seats held by Women in National Parliaments (%) - Tunisia,” 2023, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SG.GEN.PARL.ZS?end=2021&locations=TN&start=1997&view=chart.
- 14. IRI, “She Votes Tunisia: Understanding Barriers to Women Political Participation,” 2020, https://www.iri.org/resources/shevotes-examines-barriers-to-womens-political-engagement-in-tunisia.
- 15. Chellali, S. “Tunisia Tramples Gender Parity Ahead of Parliamentary Elections,” Human Rights Watch, November 2. 2022, https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/11/02/tunisia-tramples-gender-parity-ahead-parliamentary-elections.
- 16. "