Tunisia: Women's uphill struggle

2011-09-15 13:29


Tunis - The status of women in Tunisia has for decades been among the most advanced in the Arab world, but even after this year's democratic revolution politics has remained a man's world.

Women had high hopes the October 23 polls would land them some top jobs. Up until now, female political power has been embodied by Leila Trabelsi, the feared and reviled wife of toppled dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

While a new parity law requiring an equal number of men and women on electoral lists competing in next month's first post-revolution polls was respected, women were still largely excluded from leadership positions.

According to newspaper reports, less than 5% of the 1 600 lists entered by Tunisia's myriad political parties are headed by women.

"I am disappointed and a little shocked," said Larbi Chouika, an electoral commission official.

"I would have wanted parties to make a symbolic gesture."

A key article in the electoral law adopted in April - three months after Ben Ali was ousted - institutes gender parity and alternating male and female candidates on all lists.

Under Ben Ali's former ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally, women accounted for around a quarter of parliament, and many women were hoping to improve on that in the upcoming constituent assembly elections.

Women 'are hesitant'

"There's still a long way to go," said Maya Jribi, secretary general of the Progressive Democratic Party and Tunisia's only female party boss.

"But one of the problems we have is that women themselves are hesitant. They participate but do not promote themselves enough," she said.

Jribi's own party has only three women heading up lists out of 33.

"Our goal is to win the election not to field women simply to play to the gallery," she explained.

Under former president Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia promulgated the code of personal status, a groundbreaking series of progressive laws enshrining the equality of men and women, abolishing polygamy and allowing divorce.

The law put Tunisia years if not decades ahead of other Arab countries on women's rights, but convincing female participation at the highest decision-making level has remained an illusion.

"It's a matter of mentalities, many people simply don't accept the idea of a woman heading an electoral list," said Hamma Hammami, secretary general of the Tunisian Workers' Communist Party, which has four lists headed by women.

"Sometimes it's the women who don't want to be on the frontline," he said.

"Family responsibilities and the way of thinking of some husbands sometimes hinder women's participation in public life," said Sinda Masoudi Derbali, who heads a Communist party list in Nabeul, some 70km from Tunis.


She said that was particularly true in the Mediterranean country's hinterland, where illiteracy rates can reach 50% among women.

"There's no incentive or training for us to be more active in the country's political life," Derbali said.

The party tipped to win the October elections is Ennahda, a moderate Islamist movement that was fiercely repressed under Ben Ali and is ranked by opinion polls as the country's most popular by some margin.

Out of the 33 lists Ennahda fielded for the polls, only two are headed by women, including one in an overseas constituency in the Netherlands.

"Women don't yet have leadership status in unions or in political parties, it's a fact," said Ennahda chairman Rached Ghannouchi.

"Women are under-represented even in democratic countries," said Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, Progressive Democratic Party founder and a former bete noire of the ousted regime.

"Parity is a great thing, but reality is also important. In politics, there is such a thing as the obligation to get results."

Read more on:    tunisia  |  north africa

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24


Madonsela to probe ANC food-for-votes claims

Public protector Thuli Madonsela has launched an investigation into whether the ANC has used state resources for its electoral campaign, says a report.


Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
  • Thursday Sir Lowry's Pass - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Old Sir Lowrys Pass Road
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Bezweni Road
  • Thursday Cape Town - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Buitengracht Street
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Waterkant Street
More traffic reports...

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as kalahari.com’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

BlackBerry Bold 9790

Bold Design The BlackBerry Bold 9790 smartphone combines the iconic BlackBerry...

From R2979.00

I'm shopping for:


You may be good at organising events but they do take their toll on your energy levels. You may need some time out today just to...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.