Motherhood

Tunisian women fight for the right to freeze their eggs

Tunisian women fight for the right to freeze their eggs

Tunisian singer Nermine Sfar has reignited the controversial debate over the right of single women to freeze their eggs in Tunisia, with advocates insisting it’s high time reproductive laws were changed to reflect the current reality in the world. country.

Singer and performer Nermine Sfar has reignited the debate over the right of Tunisian women to freeze their eggs, after revealing that she intended to undergo the procedure to preserve her right to motherhood. Sfar, who is in her 30s, announced her decision via a Facebook post earlier this year, sparking widespread reactions on social media, with some critics and others expressing solidarity with the singer.

Foremost among her supporters were feminist activists demanding changes to the laws governing reproductive medicine, which currently deprive some women of their right to motherhood.

While women in Tunisia are politically and socially more empowered in many ways than women in most other Arab countries, state legislation still prevents single women from freezing their eggs in cases where they want to preserve chance of getting married and having children later in life. For this reason, those who choose to do so – and who have the funds – are forced to travel abroad to Spain, or elsewhere in Europe, in order to have their eggs frozen.

“While women in Tunisia are politically and socially more empowered in many ways than women in most other Arab countries, state legislation still prevents single women from freezing their eggs in cases where they want to preserve the chance to marry and have children later in life”

Women have an innate right to motherhood

Karima Ayari (42) stresses that “women must be able to defend their innate right to motherhood by all means. Egg freezing is a scientific solution prohibited for Tunisian women because of our backward laws”.

Ayari, who underwent fertility treatment after marrying in her 40s, tells Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arabs Sister publication in the Arabic language, that she had to endure repeated attempts to get pregnant through artificial insemination. This experience made her a strong advocate for women’s right to become mothers later in life.

“Continuing to prohibit women from freezing their eggs shows the backwardness that Arab societies suffer from,” she says, adding, “If egg freezing had been allowed, I would have done it earlier in my life without hesitation, even if I had to take out a loan to cover the cost of the procedure, which is high.”

While Tunisian women are widely seen as more empowered than women in most countries in the Arab world, outdated reproductive rights laws are causing problems for the growing number of women marrying later in life. [Chedly Ben Ibrahim/NurPhoto via Getty]

Tunisian law allows women to have their eggs frozen in specific health-related cases, for example, if a woman has cancer and needs to undergo radiotherapy. Section 11 of the Reproductive Medicine Act (2001) prohibits the “freezing of gametes or embryos”.

However, section 6 of the law provides an exception for married people undergoing or about to undergo medical treatment that may affect their ability to have children – they are allowed to freeze their gametes for future use in the under a legal marriage bond. and according to the rules and conditions provided by law.

Scientific advances can be used in line with new societal trends

In this context, Dr. Imad Ghannam, member of the Scientific Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology, believes that amendments to the law on reproductive medicine are long overdue in Tunisia. He insists on the right of women “to preserve their capacity to have children later.

“Scientific advances have given women many ways to help them have children at a later age”, he adds, stressing that “it should be the general public that debates this question, taking into account sure of the scientific opinions published by the associations”. specializing in obstetrics and gynecology.” He believes that discussing “these issues is no longer taboo, and the debate on this will continue and civil society organizations will push for a revision of the law.”

Dr Ghannam says she has helped women up to the age of 47 to get pregnant, pointing out that the number of women having children at older ages is increasing every year due to societal changes. Medical laws should follow these changes, he says, but he predicts that “it won’t be long for [changes to the law] to be enacted in Tunisia, since France amended its law last July to allow women between the ages of 29 and 37 to freeze their eggs, at their own expense.

“Tunisian medical laws are affected by their counterparts in France, so we could see the adoption of the same decision in Tunisia in the not distant future.”

“Women must be able to defend their innate right to motherhood by all possible means. Egg freezing is a scientific solution forbidden to Tunisian women because of our backward laws”

More generous funding needed

On another point, Dr Ghannam criticizes the fact that even for women who are allowed to undergo fertility treatment under current laws, “the National Health Insurance Fund will not cover the costs of fertility treatment like artificial insemination for women over 43, and will only offer one-time coverage to women under 43.

For this reason, he asks for a “complete revision of the procedures guaranteeing the financing by Social Security of artificial insemination within the framework of assistance to women to have children”.

In a study by the Arab Gulf Center for Studies and Research, Tunisia is ranked second in the Arab world for the rate of women who remain single longer (the study examined the percentage of women who remained single beyond 35 years and covering the years 2013-2021). Increasingly late marriages pose fertility-related issues, challenge social norms regarding older women with children, and societal acceptance of the changing situation of Tunisian women.

On a different note, while most Tunisian women are still not allowed to freeze their eggs, in August 2018 a medical team performed an operation at Aziza Othmana Hospital, the first of its kind in Tunisia and Africa. The team re-implanted frozen ovarian tissue from a married woman in her 30s who had had cancer and had undergone chemotherapy.

Following this, a procedure called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) was used (which involves injecting a single live sperm into the center of an egg) and this resulted in the birth of a baby girl, Beya, who is born in 2019, the first live birth following the ICSI process with frozen eggs in Tunisia and Africa.

This is an edited translation of our Arabic edition with additional reports. To read the original article, click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko