Members of Tunisia's LGBT community will no longer be subjected to forced anal examinations, the North African country's minister of human right has promised.
Minister Mehdi Ben Gharbia said on Friday that while judges will still be able to request suspected homosexuals to undergo the test, "that person has every right to refuse, without his refusal being held up as proof of homosexuality," according to The Daily Mail.
These anal exams have been classified as torture
Such anal exams are often dubbed the "egg test," as an egg-sized object or an actual egg are inserted into the anus. The practice has been defined as torture by activists and numerous international organizations.
Additionally, rights groups and medical organizations have repeatedly said that the overwhelming body of scientific evidence shows that the test cannot even determine whether an individual has engaged in same-sex intercourse.
Ben Gharbia did not give a specific timeline for when the test will be officially banned, but he said Tunisia is "committed to protecting the sexual minority from any form of stigmatization, discrimination and violence."
Homosexuals can face 3 years of jail in Tunisia
Rights group Amnesty International welcomed the decision, but also said it does not go nearly far enough. Sodomy is still punishable by up to three years in jail in Tunisia, and LGBTQ individuals in the country face arrest and significant discrimination.
"Amnesty International welcomed today Tunisia’s acceptance of two recommendations to immediately cease the practice of forced anal examinations and ensure the protection of LGBTQI persons from all forms of stigmatization, discrimination and violence," the rights group said.
"However the organization deeply regrets Tunisia’s rejection of 14 recommendations relating the decriminalization of same-sex relations by repealing article 230 of the Penal Code," it said.
A group of homosexual youth was arrested, prosecuted and convicted under article 230 in 2016. Tunisia's President Beji Caid Essebsi also said in 2015 that he would oppose repeal of the controversial article.
Ben Gharbia also cautioned that the broader conservative Muslim society must first be prepared before the law changes.
Awareness about LGBT issues is growing in the Arab world
Throughout the Arab world, dialogue and awareness surrounding LGBTQ oppression have been gaining greater salience in the past few years. Activists, artists and organizations have been challenging traditional societal taboos surrounding sexual identity.
In June, a week-long Pride event was held in Lebanon, drawing wide local and international media attention. While this was not the first Pride event to ever be held in the country, to many, it signaled a growing acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
Similarly, the massive popularity throughout the Arab world of the Lebanese indie band Mashrou' Leila, which sings about LGBTQ themes and has an openly gay lead singer, can be interpreted as a sign that Arab youth are more accepting of a nuanced view of gender and sexual identity.
In the UAE, gender reassignment surgery was legalized in 2016, although the legality of changing one's gender on official documents is still unclear.
From Iraq to Jordan and Tunisia, LGBTQ groups and organizations are raising awareness and challenging societal misconceptions.