Legislation instituted under President Habib Bourguiba (replaced because of senility in November 1987) gives Tunisian women equal political rights with Tunisian men. 1 This reform began in 1957 when for the first time women were permitted to vote in local elections. 2 The Union Nationale des Femmes de Tunisie (U.N.F.T.) was formed in that year. Bourguiba encouraged this group in its goal to achieve female emancipation. 3 The Tunisian administration believed this goal was a necessary step in their plan to modernize the nation. In order to get women other than the few who were well-educated to exercise the franchise, U.N.F.T. set up conferences to teach women their new rights and duties and also to encourage them to vote. 4
After the municipal elections of 1957 women voted in all subsequent elections. 5 One failing of the system in its effort to encourage women to participate is the fact that some regions automatically register males over the age of 20 but female voter registration is voluntary. 6 Voting is a duty for a man, and he may be reprimanded for his failure to act, but for a woman to vote is optional.
Legislation was also passed which permits females to run for and hold political office. 7 Many Moslem countries forbid women from becoming judges because of the Quran statement that a woman's testimony is worth only half that of a man's. Tunisia is one of the few which has opened this important position to women. 8
Family law in Tunisia is governed by the 1957 Tunisian Code of Personal Status (Majallet Al-Ahwal Al Al-Shakhsiyah). Book I, Article 5 of this code set the minimum marriage age as the time at which the person reaches puberty and lists the standard as 15 for girls and 18 for boys. 9 With the consent of the potential spouse's guardian and a judge this minimum may be lowered if it is proven that the boy or girl has reached physical maturity. 10 Article 8 requires that the guardian be "the agnatic relative and should be sane, of the male sex and have attained the age of majority." 11 The mother is not legally capable of providing the required consent. The age limits were raised through a 1964 amendment to 17 for females and 20 for males. 12
Bourguiba's administration was attempting to curtail the practice of selling off young girls by including the minimum age and a mandate that both parties enter into the marriage voluntarily. 13 Traditionally, neither the bride nor