Tunisian women protest to demand equality

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Tunisian women have long enjoyed equal rights to men

Thousands of Tunisians have protested in the capital, Tunis, against moves by the Islamist-led government which they fear will reduce women's rights.

The government has unveiled a draft constitution which refers to women as "complementary to men".

The mostly women protesters held up placards which read: "Rise up women for your rights."

Tunisia was one of the most secular Arab states before the Islamist Ennahda party won elections last year.

It took power following the mass uprising which led to the overthrow of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's regime in January 2011.

The 1956 constitution said that women and men were equal, banned polygamy and introduced civil divorce and marriage.

'Open the door'

Ennahda member Farida al-Obeidi, who chairs the constitutional assembly's human rights and public freedoms panel, said the wording of the draft constitution was not a backward step for Tunisian women, Reuters reports.

Instead, the draft stipulates the "sharing of roles and does not mean that women are worth less than men", she said.

But the chairperson of the Democratic Women's Association, Ahlam Belhadj, condemned the clause.

"Major retreats usually begin with one step," she said.

"If we stay silent today, we will open the door to everything else and end up surprised by even more serious decisions."

The protests began on Monday evening after the end of the daytime fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

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