In a victory for the women's rights movement in the region, Muslim women in Tunisia are now allowed to marry non-Muslim men, International Business Times reported.

The Tunisian government decided on Thursday to lift a decades-old ban that had prohibited Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men without the latter converting to Islam.

While the move has been endorsed by Tunisian President Beji Caed Essibsi, it has drawn heavy criticism from Muslim clerics. 

As per the Islamic tradition, Muslim men are allowed to marry women from outside the religion, as long as they follow an Abrahamic faith (Judaism or Christianity,) while Muslim women are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims. 

This has been applied in the Muslim-majority country since 1973.

Marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men were not recognized by the country's Mufti unless said men converted to Islam beforehand and submitted a certificate proving their conversion.

Rights groups have been protesting against the ban and demanding its annulment, saying that it contradicts the fundamental right to choose a spouse. 

This August, Essibsi called for major reforms in favor of women in the country, urging the country's Prime Minister and Minister of Justice to repeal article No 73 - a 1973 decree that prohibits Tunisian Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims. 

To enforce his words with action, Essibisi appointed a team led by a female lawyer and several rights activists to present a draft of the necessary amendments

"All articles pertaining to the ban on Tunisian women from marrying non-Muslims have been revoked. In clearer terms, [the ban includes] the 1973 decree and all similar texts," presidency spokeswoman Saida Garrach wrote on Facebook.

"Congratulations to the women of Tunisia for the consecration of the right to freely choose one's spouse."

Under the new regulations, non-Muslim men planning to marry Muslim Tunisian women are no longer obliged to convert to Islam.

"A good day for freedom of choice"

Tunisia is leading the way

But not everyone is celebrating

The move was met with strong opposition from conservative Muslims who accused the government of going against Islamic principles.  

Tunisia is committed to implementing gender equality

The North African Arab nation is in a league of its own when it comes to women's rights in the region, and it has made huge strides in recent months.

In July, the Tunisian parliament passed a comprehensive bill to "end all violence" against women in what Human Rights Watch (HRW) described at the time as a "landmark step for women's rights."

The new law, which is expected to come into effect next year, introduces new criminal provisions and increases penalties for various forms of violence, sexual harassment, and discrimination against women.

The state's own president is a major supporter of these pro-women changes.

"The state is committed to achieving full equality between women and men [...] and equal opportunities for them in assuming all responsibilities, as stipulated in Article 46 of the Constitution," President Essibsi said in August, according to Middle East Monitor

The fight is far from over

Activists are still calling for additional amendments to Tunisian laws that are deemed unfair to women, most notably those governing inheritance.

According to Islamic law, women inherit half of what their brothers receive. However, activists and the country's president are hoping to change that, seeking to equalize inheritance between women and men.