Tunisia’s Habiba Ghribi Fueling Women’s Rights Debate

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Habiba Ghribi of Tunisia holds her national flag after placing second in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase final 2011 IAAF World Athletics Championships. REUTERS/Phil Noble (SOUTH KOREA)

Tunisia’s first female medalist, Habiba Ghribi, is fueling the debate over women’s rights in Tunisia, reports France 24. Ghribi, 24, brought home silver in the 3000m steeplechase earlier this month, commenting to reporters: “This medal is for all the Tunisian people, for Tunisian women, for the new Tunisia.”

Ghribi’s comments came amidst a debate around the new constitution, which ruling party Ennadha wants to state that a woman is a “complement to the man in the family and an associate to the man in the development of the country.” A bevy of human rights groups—including the Association Tunisienne des Femmes démocrates (ATFD), Ligue tunisienne pour la défense des Droits de l’Homme (LTDH), and Fédération internationale des droits de l’Homme (FIDH)—signed a letter expressing their “categorical rejection” of the proposal, and reiterating their commitment to the principle of gender equality.

According to the France 24 report, Ghribi’s competition uniform—the typical running shorts and crop top worn by female athletes—has drawn comments on social media such as this one: “Tunisia does not need medals that come from women who are uncovered and naked. We should strip the nationality of she who has dishonoured Tunisia with her nudity and debauchery.”

But Ghribi has also been defended by Tunisian politicians such as Ibrahim Kassas, an MP, who joked on the radio that “The underpants of Habiba Ghribi have honoured us,” adding: “What have [Ennahda MP’s] underpants done for us?”