This paper analyzes how the discourse of the independent Tunisian feminist movement of the 1980s brought new visibility and appreciation to the early feminists of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, and how it revived tensions that had arisen during the earlier period. The paper also examines how, in a transnational context, the construction of an anthropology of culture by women of the region and the establishment of a Maghrebi women’s network enabled the torch of women’s rights to pass from women in Tunisia, where the Personal Status Code (PSC) was a model for the region, to women in Morocco, whose activities led to a reform of the Moroccan personal status code (the Mudawwana) in 2003.
The discourse of the second generation of Tunisian women, which emerged, unlike that of women in other Arab Muslim countries, in a post-independence context wherein they benefited from an oft-amended PSC that awarded them numerous rights, required that they not only demand new rights but also develop a discourse different from that of the state. However, as Tunisian feminist discourse was becoming institutionalized (e.g. with the publication of the magazine Nissa) in the face of a growing Islamist movement which, strengthened by the transnational Islamist dynamic, was calling for a referendum on the PSC, its promulgator, President Habib Bourguiba, was deposed. The second Republic chose to continue the policy of the first, and brought the women’s movement into association with other Tunisian political forces in a “National Pact” to safeguard the PSC, thereby turning the majority of Tunisian women into protectors of the state.