Tunisia has achieved an impressive position in the Middle East and North African region with its integration of women into educational, political, and economic realms of society.1
With respect to social codes, Tunisia has long had the most progressive personal status code in the Arab world, prohibiting polygamy and giving women equal rights in marriage and divorce. Moreover, Tunisia has shined in the international human rights domain by removing all key reservations to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).2
Many gender positive legal reforms also have been introduced in recent years, including specifying a gender non-discrimination clause in Tunisian’s new constitution3 and a gender parity law, requiring each political party to run an equal number of male and female candidates in the Constituent Assembly elections.4 In addition to these legal reforms, the Tunisian government has erected institutions to support women’s economic empowerment with ministries focused on gender issues.5 Despite these admirable strides toward equality, the issue of women’s participation in Tunisia’s business world has not been approached with the same rigor.
The primary sources of corporate governance legislation in Tunisia are the Law No. 2000-93 enacting the Commercial Companies Code; the Law No. 2005-96 on the Strengthening of the Security of Financial Relations; the Law No. 2007-69 on the Stimulation of Economic Initiative; and Law No. 2001-65 on the Establishment of Lending Institutions. In addition, there are specific regulations applicable to banks and companies listed on the Tunisian Stock Exchange.6 However, not one of these laws or regulations mandate measures to increase Tunisian women’s participation in corporate governance.
In 2008, the Tunisian Centre of Corporate Governance issued the Tunisian Guide of Corporate Governance (“Guide”) that was revised in 2012.7 The Guide offers recommendations for corporate governance and aims to make the Tunisian system of corporate governments more transparent.8 It is merely voluntary, and none of the ten largest listed companies in Tunisia provide a “comply or explain” statement with their annual reports, as is recommended. Notably, the Guide contains an affirmative provision that promotes the principle of diversity on corporate boards—Section 2.1.6 recommends that the composition of boards should be “balanced and diversified,” and include “women and men of different backgrounds.”9 It recommends that boards be composed of at least 25% of women.
Notwithstanding those recommendations for increased gender inclusion on Tunisian boards, the percentage of women on the boards of listed companies was only approximately 8% at the end of 2013.10 All ten largest listed companies disclose their board compositions, as the Guide recommends.11 There are women in six of the ten largest listed companies, with one woman in each of these six boards (making an average of 13.2%). However, when counting all ten companies, there are only six women out of 84 board members or 7.61%.
Although these figures are low, Tunisian NGOs and other institutions are pushing to integrate women in business despite the lack of mandatory legislative attention. For example, the Center for Arab Women for Training and Research,12 a regional institution based in Tunis, promotes the role of Arab women in the economic and political sectors through advocacy-based research, training, networking, and publications.
While Tunisian companies have yet to realize the Guide’s recommendation of at least 25% of women board members, the Guide’s and Tunisian NGOs’ attention to increased gender diversity gives room for optimism that further progress will be made to advance women in leadership positions in Tunisia in the future.
1 Val Singh, Contrasting positions of women directors in Jordan and Tunisia (Jan. 2008), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265291705_Contrasting_positions_of_women_directors_in_Jordan_and_Tunisia.
2 The Tunisian Council of Ministers removed all reservations on Aug. 16, 2011. By accepting the Convention, Tunisia committed to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms. See Convention on All Forms of Discrimination against Women, UN Women, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/cedaw.htm.
3 The new constitution recognizes officially the equality between men and women in its Article 21, which reads “All male and female citizens have the same rights and duties. They are equal before the law without discrimination”; Women in Business and Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East & North Africa, ILO (Jan. 27, 2016), https://www.ilo.org/beirut/publications/WCMS_446101/lang--en/index.htm.
4 Tunisia on Board with Women’s Rights, Human Rights Watch (Sept. 22, 2011), https://www.hrw.org/news/2011/09/22/tunisia-board-womens-rights.
5 Victoria Chambers with Clare Cummings, Building Momentum – Women’s empowerment in Tunisia (Nov. 21, 2014), https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/10319.pdf.
6 Corporate Governance in Transition Economies – Tunisia Country Report, Eur. Bank for Reconstruction & Dev. (Dec. 2017), https://www.ebrd.com/cs/Satellite?c=Content&cid=1395252135851&d.
7 Guidelines of Corporate Governance Best Practices, Centre of Corporate Governance (2012), https://www.ebrd.com/documents/ogc/tunisia.pdf.
10 ILO, supra note 3.
11 Eur. Bank for Reconstruction & Dev., supra note 6.
12 See generally Center of Arab Women for Training and Research, www.cawtar.org (last visited Aug. 29, 2018).