Beyond Revolution: How Women Influenced Constitution Making In Tunisia

Nanako Tamaru, Olivia Holt-Ivry, & Marie O’Reilly | March 2018

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Participatory approaches have come to the forefront of constitution making in recent years. Their potential for fostering legitimacy, national ownership, and the inclusion of diverse groups is particularly relevant in deeply divided societies. Yet a large demographic–women–remains significantly under-represented in constitution-reform processes, averaging just 19 percent of seats in constituent assemblies in countries experiencing conflict, unrest, or political transition. The Tunisian experience of constitution making in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution offers an informative example of how women get involved in constitution reform and the impact they can have on the process and its outcomes.

Tunisian women secured 31 percent of seats in the country’s constitution-making body through a combination of civic organizing, timely advocacy, and support from male allies. Mobilizing quickly after the revolution, civil society organizations built coalitions to support women’s participation and encourage women to vote in elections for the constituent assembly. Male champions of women’s rights helped ensure women were among those appointed to the “Higher Authority,” the body responsible for creating the roadmap for the constitution-drafting process. These women, in turn, advocated for gender parity in political parties’ candidate lists for the constituent assembly elections. Women in the Higher Authority convinced the influential Islamist political party, Ennahda, and other smaller parties to support electoral lists that alternated between men and women. Simultaneously, civil society organizations applied pressure from the public square in favor of this vertical gender parity. The resulting decree helped women earn one in three seats in the assembly that would draft the constitution.

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