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Abstract

Starting in the 1950s and ever since, Tunisia has implemented gender legislation expanding women's rights in family law. The ground breaking phase occurred with the promulgation of the Code of Personal Status in the mid-1950s during the formation of a national state in the aftermath of independence from French colonial rule. Another major phase occurred in the 1990s with citizenship law reforms as embodied in the Tunisian Code of Nationality. As a result of these two major phases, Tunisia has been at the fore front of "woman friendly" legislative changes in the Arab- Muslim world and is widely recognized as such. At a time when issues of women's rights are not only highly debated, but sometimes violently contested in Muslim countries, the Tunisian case requires examination. This Article documents the two major phases of reforms in favor of women's rights in Tunisia and outlines the conditions that permitted or encouraged the continuity over the last half century. The first wave of reforms in the 1950s transformed the legal construction of gender roles within the family. The second wave in the 1990s redefined the conditions for the transmission of Tunisian citizenship. In painting social change in broad strokes, I analyze the initial and pioneering phase of the 1950s as a reform resulting from the actions of a newly formed national state interested in building a new society at the end of colonial rule. By contrast, the role of women's agency came into play in Tunisia starting in the 1980s and became more robust in the 1990s. The evidence suggests that different political configurations can be conducive to reform in different periods.

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