Series:

Sarah Grosso

Abstract

The relationship between family law and gender equality is central both to anthropological debates on the status of women in the Middle East and to feminist struggles. However, the extent to which these laws can be seen to advance gender equality in practice has been contested; legal practice is shaped by cultural-religious understandings of gender and patriarchal norms, sometimes in counter-intuitive ways. This article explores the potentials and limits of family law reform for the promotion of gender equality. Based on ethnographic research in Ben Ali’s Tunisia in a family court and in a suburb of Tunis (2007-8), it examines the legal procedures that shape judicial decisions and litigants’ experiences of the divorce laws that were a central pillar of Tunisia’s post-independence civil law reforms in favour of women’s rights.