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Tunisia Inadequately Protecting Women - HRW

FILE: Tunisian demonstrators shout during a protest seeking equality between men and women in Tunis, Tunisia, March 10, 2018.

Authorities in Tunisia have not done enough to protect women against domestic violence despite progressive legislation it adopted five years ago, advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Thursday.

Tunisian police in 2021 registered nearly 69,000 complaints of violence against women, but "the real magnitude of domestic violence is however difficult to gauge, in part due to poor data collection and the social and economic pressure on women to tolerate men's violence," the NGO's report states.

It notes that some 130 specialized police units have been set up since the law's adoption in 2017, but women interviewed by HRW "said the police did not routinely explain to them their rights and options (and) responded dismissively to their complaints."

Lawmakers passed in 2017 a law to tackle violence against women, regarded as a pioneering initiative, but "insufficient" implementation has kept women in the North African country unsafe, New York-based HRW said in a report.

Law 58, as it is known, has expanded the definition of punishable violence, including sexual harassment in public spaces. It was also meant to guarantee legal, financial and social support for survivors.

"The legal framework provides very important tools to protect women, but they still remain victims of grave violence," said HRW's Tunisia director Salsabil Chellali.

"Five years after the promulgation of this progressive and ambitious text, the authorities' actions have been insufficient" in protecting women, she told AFP.

According to HRW, "the authorities fail to systematically respond, investigate and provide protection to women who report violence."

The NGO also stated "Poor implementation of the law leaves women at risk of violence."

Its report also states that inadequate access to emergency shelters, particularly in rural areas, "means that women who need to flee an abusive household have nowhere to go unless they have ample resources."