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Tunisian women protesters
November 30, 2019 - Civil society organizations organized a march to denounce violence against women in Tunis, Tunisia.

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During the first national pandemic lockdowns in 2020, the Tunisian Ministry for the Affairs of Women, Family, Children, and the Aged, announced that the number of cases of violence against women had multiplied by a factor of seven.  Between January and October 2021, 25 percent of telephone calls made to the “green line” (which enables women to call the Ministry for information and to make complaints) were related to conjugal violence.  This high frequency provides more evidence that the legal statutes designed to protect women from violence, such as Law 58 promulgated in 2017 that, among other things, established the “green line” are not sufficient.

While the mechanisms might be in place for women to bring awareness to abuse, police and judicial institutions do not respond adequately to counter the frequency of violence against women. 

A study carried out by the organization Mra (“Woman”) on the limitations of police and judicial institutions shows that only 0.5 percent of decisions issued in matters of violence against women referred to Law 58 of 2017. For example, in May 2021 Rafika Cherni, a 26-year-old mother of three children, was killed by her husband with the gun he possessed as member of the National Guard. Three days prior to the murder, Rafika made a formal complaint against her husband, including a medical certificate to support her claim. This shows while the mechanisms might be in place for women to bring awareness to abuse, police and judicial institutions do not respond adequately to counter the frequency of violence against women.  The hashtags, “Say Her Name” and “Refka Cherni” took off across social networks following her death, leading to a spontaneous citizens’ campaign that brought awareness to the urgency of forming structures and institutions capable of protecting women.

Threats against women agricultural workers

The vulnerability of rural women continues to be high, despite some progress.  While beginning the 1990s, women technicians and engineers in the agricultural sector have gained financial stability and land for their projects, a number of studies show that, due to cultural and social norms, very few women become heads of agricultural enterprises.  Women working in the agricultural sector are excluded from water user associations, are typically excluded from agricultural meetings, and only earn a net income of between 10 and 15 dinars per day (3-5$US).  When women accept a lower wage than their male counterpart, it is often because they prioritize the need to provide for their families.

Rural women are now raising this issue of unnecessary deaths of women agricultural workers to the sphere of formal politics.

In addition to economic discrimination, women in rural settings are frequently victims of road accidents. During the second half of the 2010s, the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) logged 40 deaths and 496 injuries from road accidents. Poorly maintained roads, transportation in pick-up trucks, and small trucks in need of repair all contribute to increasing the risk of accidents and deaths among women agricultural workers. With growing public awareness of these accidents, the headscarf worn by women agricultural workers has become a symbol of their situation. Women agricultural workers have begun to organize sit-ins to protest the poor transportation, and labor unions are beginning to make demands for improved conditions. In January 2011, artists across the Arab world, including Tunisia, occupied the streets and declared “The street belongs to us;” rural women are now raising this issue of unnecessary deaths of women agricultural workers to the sphere of formal politics.

The household mental burden

A 2021 study carried out by AFTURD (Association of Tunisian Women for Research and Development) and OXFAM found that Tunisian women spend between 8 and 12 hours per day caring for their family, compared to 45 minutes per day spent by men, according to 60 percent of women interviewed.  Society expects Tunisian women, whether married or not, to take care of the children at home.  Tunisia now has only 53 public nursery schools down from 223 in 1995. In addition to childcare, women are also the household cooks, educators, teachers, and elderly caregivers. This study shows the extent to which, by failing to take women’s informal labor into account, the sexist policies of successive governments have contributed to the pauperization of women.

Women’s outrage by the mental burden of these household burdens is a revolt against the means used to de-valorize women’s ability to be artists, scientists, writers, architects, poets, and other participants in the formal economy. And, to stop them having a refuge, as Virginia Woolf says, where they can dream, write, paint, without being bothered or providing a justification for these feelings and desires.  Women’s revolt against the household mental burden is essential to the struggle of women to rethink their role in their society.

About the Author

Lilia Labidi

Lilia Labidi

Global Fellow;
Visiting Research Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore; Former Minister for Women’s Affairs (January to December 2011), Government of Tunisia
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