There is no doubt that one of the most contentious terrains of contestation in the supposed clash of values between Islamism and western values is the role of women in society. Thus, the issue of women's rights has become the litmus test for Arab societies with respect to the current zeitgeist of human rights in the age of democracy and liberalism. There is today a stereotypical view of debates surrounding women's rights in the Arab world where two distinct camps are in conflict with each other. On the one hand there are 'globalised' liberal and secular actors that strive for women's rights and therefore democracy, while on the other are obscurantist movements that are anchored in religious tradition, resist globalisation and are therefore autocratic by assumption. This article challenges this view and through an empirical study of the changes to the Code of Personal Status in Tunisia and Morocco it demonstrates that the issue of women's rights is far more complex and, in particular, it finds that there is a very significant decoupling between women's rights and democracy in the region, despite a progressive liberal shift in the gender equality agenda.