"Revolutions and Gender, Tunisia."


How revolutions in the world can change gender roles within communities: Tunisia from 1881 to 2015.                                                     

   Revolutions in the world have played a great role in re-defining gender roles in their communities. Whether in the third or the first world countries, women are individually facing the same challenges every day. That’s is indeed one of many reasons why revolutions started in a lot of countries like Tunisia.Tunisia is the small northerner country that has succeeded 4 years ago to attract the attention of the whole world and make the American house of Senate stand and applaud for its progressive post-revolution constitution.
The country’s progressive era was initiated by Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation as an unemployed young man in Sidi Bouzid, one of the rural Tunisian areas. However, Mohamed wasn’t the first, or the last reason why Tunisia has been evolving. Women also have been taking part of this ongoing journey; toward the first democratic Arab and North African country.
  Revolutions in the world have played a great role in redefining gender in certain communities. In this paper, we are taking the example of Tunisia to demonstrate the historical rebellion of its women against the social norms to achieve democracy and gender equality in both of the French colonized and the post-revolution society.
Keywords: Tunisia, Feminism, Transnational Politics, Arab Spring, Women’s rights, occupation, gender roles.

A.    A historical perspective: Tunisian women’s participation in political activism between the past and the present.

In Tunisia’s history, women from all walks of life have been challenging not only a dictatorship regime that caged rights and freedoms, but also a patriarchal mindset that didn’t accept the participation of women in a social-political battle that started since 1881 against the French colonization and ended with the inspiring uprising against Ben Ali’s regime. One of the most important documents that fueled an ongoing debate over the future of women’s rights in Tunisia is indeed: ‘Our Women in Shari’a and in Society’ (1930)

French Colonization era:
      Being a society under the French colonization put women back in 1881, in a difficult situation in which they found themselves restricted by the social traditional rules that considered women as the weaker uneducated part of the household. Tunisian women were required to be veiled and obedient to their fathers, brothers, and later on husbands.  The colonial regime wasn’t only manifested by the excessive control of the country’s economy and freedom, but also the rejection to educate Tunisian girls.
Political activism thus, was a far-away dream that Tunisian women weren’t allowed to think about, until different independence movements emerged out of the blue.  Those “modernization movements”[1] which were usually led by young Tunisian men, worked hard to open society’s eyes to call for their right of education and voting.
Women like Khadija Rebeh and Mabrooka Guesmi were only two of the traditional women who took advantage of their traditional gatherings in public baths, cemeteries, and public markets to educate other housewives and start their secret National Movement, which helped to achieve independence later on.
Women back then didn’t really need activism or feminism education in order to take a step forward and contribute to the independence of a country that couldn’t has never assured their basic rights as Tunisian citizens.
Lilia Abidi in her book “Origins of women’s movements in tunisia, 1987” stated that those rebellious activists shared the same passion, however different stories and experiences as women under the French colonization. She says:

“ Those woman including Bachira Ben Mrad Mabrooka Guesmi, Khadija Rebehm and Chedleia Bouzgarrou, have joined the independence movement without forgetting about the traditional identity that the society carried for centuries… They paid a very painful price. They sacrificed their hair, jewelry, and encountered ‘accidents’ that led sometimes to the abortion of their first child. Those activists learned how to simply let go their wealth and pleasure for the sake of achieving the country’s independence.” [2]

Post-colonization Tunisia: Bourguiba and Ben Ali’s regimes.

1. Borguiba’s era ( 22 October 1964- 7 November 1987)

      Habib Bourguiba (3 August 1903 – 6 April 2000) was the leader who headed the Tunisian Movement of independence and the country's first president from 1957 to 1987. Bourguiba is considered as the “founder of the country” as he invested in a free compulsory education for both genders. With the modernized image of the country being more evolved, scholars like Tahar Haddad has found more liberties to criticize genders’ role within the Tunisian society. In his text: ‘Our Women i Shari’a and in Society’ (1930), Hadad initiated a debate that attracted a controversies, which prepared for a daring critique of traditional gender roles in the traditional society. Getting the independence from the French colonization also resulted the Code of Personal Status in 1956[3], which freed women from polygamy and gave them the right to ask for divorce.  Bourguiba’s agenda also put reforms on female emancipation, public education, family planning, a modern, state-run healthcare system, a campaign to improve literacy, administrative, financial and economic organization, suppression of religious property endowments, known as Waqf, and building the country's infrastructure[4]. In his era, Bourguiba emphasized on introducing the “state feminism” or “state of institutional feminism” to advocate women’s rights as stated by Iqbal Gharbi[5]:
“ We could consider the Tunisian context as an exception; in fact what has been defined as ‘state feminism’ has achieved a wide improvement of women’s rights and equality between women and men.”
This post-independence progress has taken the country to the next level of gender equality, especially after 1957, when women finally got the right to vote, and the access to children adoption eight years before the USA. In 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was ratified, with some reservations.[6]
Bourguiba remained as President of Tunisia until 7 November 1987, when his newly appointed Prime Minister and constitutional successor Zine El Abidine Ben Ali impeached him. Ben Ali claimed that Bourguiba's old age and health were certified by his own doctors made him unfit to govern.
2. Ben Ali’s era: (27 February 1988- 14 January 2011)
Although Ben Ali’s continued Bourguiba’s same approach to build a country based on women’s rights, it was considered as a strategy in front of foreign donors to preserve an image of privileged citizens in the “country of law and human rights”.
Zin El Abidine Ben Ali’s era was the nightmare for women in Tunisia, no matter how much growth did the feminist movements achieved. In his 23 years of dictatorship. Ben Ali announced two Bills to deal with the legal housing rights of mothers having custody of children, and  set a minimum age of 18 years old for marriage with the consent of both spouses.
From 1987,  women’s participation in the civil society has witnessed a lot of progress by the emerging of two of the leading organizations in women’s right in 1982: The Tunisian Association of Women Democrats (ATFD) and the Tunisian Women Association for Research and Development (AFTURD). However, the two associations got severely restricted by the regime and were used as a strategy to be internationally accepted by the Western societies.
However, when digging deep into the real Tunisian society, far away from cameras and manipulated media and citizens, especially women didn’t have the right to speak up, to choose their own destiny, or even to wear what they want. Veiled women indeed, were discriminated against every single day in school, university, and work. They had to sign waivers restricting wearing the headscarf that they tended to call it “sectarian dresses”. In that time, neither AFTURD, nor ATFD could defend female Islamist political prisoners who were tortured and raped in front of their fathers and husbands’ eyes[7].

B.    Women in the “Revolution of Dignity”: the fragmented politics and the challenge to keep freedoms.
“The Revolution of Dignity” was the term that both of the Tunisian (2011) and the Ukrainian revolution (2014) shared to restore faith and hope in their country. In its revolution, Tunisia sacrificed more than 338 martyrs and 2,147 injured[8]. Ukraine on the other hand lost 80 people and 500 injured in only one week. Euromaidan[9] gathered between than 400,00 and 800,0000 Ukrainian protesters to destroy Vladimir Lenin’s statue in Odessa Oblast.
“People referred to Maidan as a force of “male heroes” while delegating women to cook, clean, and provide moral support. Men donned signs reading, "Women, if you see garbage clean it up. Revolutionaries will be pleased.” Social media was buzzing with requests for “more women in the kitchen.” Some women followed suit with a “hug initiative” to show solidarity by hugging their male heroes.” as stated by ‘The Untold Story of the Ukrainian Revolution’[10]
Ukrainian women were targeted by patriarchal mentalities. However, they “stopped being passive followers and were outraged by this sexism and invisibility,” said Olena Shevchenko, feminist activist and executive director of Insight Ukraine. She added:
“For the majority of them, feminism is still a bad word, but they feel that they can no longer live in such an unfair situation.”[11]

Talking about the 2011’s “Revolution of dignity”, Tunisia’s January 14th put the country on the top of the democratic nations in North Africa and the Middle East. The country has witnessed a democratic transition on power by changing the government six times, which resulted a progressive constitution on 26 January 2014. The first government elected was the Islamist party Ennahda that elected 42 women to the constituent Assembly.[12]
A lot of feminist movements expressed their concern about their freedoms after the election of the Islamist party Ennahda. However, the party and its president Rached Ghannouchi made it clear from the beginning that Ennahda won’t be legalizing polygamy. Instead, women will get back their right to wear Hijabs or shorts wherever and whenever they want as part of their personal freedom.

After two years of work, the post-revolutionary constitution of 2014 had 146 articles in witch it deals with freedoms and liberties; and committed to the absolute equality between men and women.[13]
By being present now more than ever in the political life, they strongly stand still in front of the challenges enforced by the governments and the patriarchal society to assert the unlimited equality, especially in political parties.

 Conclusion:
Since the French colonization, women of Tunisia have been surviving all forms of oppressions and social restrictions in order to build a brand new country of liberties and freedoms. The challenge was never restricted to a regime of dictatorship that continued for decades, women are finding themselves in front of an enormous responsibility to educate a society that inherited patriarchal traditions through centuries. Women activists’ main activism is indeed evolving around finding new ways to be more engaged in the civil society and the political participation.
Talking about the latest elections of 2014, researches have proved the low participation of women by 5% out of 10,937 candidates. However, the number is increasing which shows how women politicians and activists are challenging themselves and the society to fight for their right to be equally presented in the political life in comparison to their male counterparts.
That’s why we see women like Kalthoum Kannou who was only one of the three women who took a step forward to practice their right to run for presidency. By collecting more than 15,000 nominations, Kannou is now considered the first female candidate who had the courage to run against 24 men presidency candidates[14]. In this context, the journalist and political activist Neziha Rejiba said:

“The Tunisian man already trusts a female pilot with his life; goes to a female doctor for medical treatment and consults with a female lawyer for legal issues.”
“Why wouldn’t he trust a female president?”
Kalthoum Kannou didn’t win the elections but her willingness to continue her mission is way stronger than people think. “That’s nothing but a first step”, she said.
2015, Tunisia is among the few African and Middle Eastern countries that didn’t and will never have enough from fighting for women freedoms and rights. Especially with the adoption of a great exemplary constitution, women are in a continuous stance to be treated equally to men, although their participation in the labour market is higher than a lot of Arab countries, Tunisian women are in continuous demand of more opportunities for both genders.
With all of this being said, it remains to be seen how long the progress achieved so far will endure. Time will either assure a greater empowerment for Tunisian women, or simulating a gender equality that is hard to be achieved in their daily life. However, no one can underestimate the tough battle that women are trying to survive each and every day in conservative societies.
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Reference:
New Tunisian Constiitution Adopted". Tunisia Live. 26 January 2014. Retrieved 26 January    2014.
The Role of Women in Tunisia. (n.d.). Gold Mercury International.
Abbassi, Driss; Ilbert, Robert (2005), Entre Bourguiba et Hannibal. Identité tunisienne et histoire depuis l’indépendance (in French), Paris: Karthala, ISBN 978-2-845-86640-9
Ajroudi, Asma. "Kalthoum Kannou, Tunisia’s First Female Presidential Candidate."   Http://english.alarabiya.net/. Al Arabiya News, 2014. Web. 07 May 2015
Charrad, Mounira. States and Women’s Rights: The Making of Postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.; Clancy-Smith, Julia. “Colonialism: 18th to Early 20th Century.” Methodologies, Paradigms and Sources of the 6-volume Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, Vol. 1. Edited by Suad Joseph. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2003.
Charrad, Mounira. States and Women’s Rights: The Making of Postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.; Clancy-Smith, Julia. “Colonialism: 18th to Early 20th Century.” Methodologies, Paradigms and Sources of the 6-volume Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures.
El Morabet Belhaj, Rabia. Wishes, Demands and Priorities of National and Regional Women’s Organisations in the MENA Region. Anje Wiersinga, M.D.: n.p., 2013. Print.
Hochma Rand, D. (2013). Roots of the Arab Spring: Contested Authority and Political Change in the Middle East. University of Pennsylvania Press.
Moghadam, Valentine M. From Patriarchy to Empowerment: Women's Participation, Movements, and Rights in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 2007. Print.

[1]Report: 338 killed during Tunisia revolution. Associated Press via FoxNews. 5 May 2012.

The Role of Women in Tunisia. (n.d.). Gold Mercury International.
The Untold Story of the Ukrainian Revolution. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.globalfundforwomen.org/impact/news/196-2014/2155-the-untold-story-of-the-ukrainian-revolution


[1] Charrad, Mounira. States and Women’s Rights: The Making of Postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.; Clancy-Smith, Julia. “Colonialism: 18th to Early 20th Century.” Methodologies, Paradigms and Sources of the 6-volume Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, Vol. 1. Edited by Suad Joseph. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2003.
[2] This article was translated from Arabic to English. This article was written in Arabic in “El-Shourouk” daily newspaper about women leaders in Tunisia.
[3] M. CHARRAD, MOUNIRA, and AMINA ZARRUGH. "The Arab Spring and Women’s Rights in Tunisia." E-International Relations 3 Sept. 2013. Web.
[4]Abbassi, Driss; Ilbert, Robert (2005), Entre Bourguiba et Hannibal. Identité tunisienne et histoire depuis l’indépendance (in French), Paris: Karthala, ISBN 978-2-845-86640-9
[5] Iqbal Gharbi is the first woman professor teaching psychology at the University of Zitouna and the first women director of the University radio.(Interview held in 2013 by the journal of International Zomen’s Studies.)
[6] The Role of Women in Tunisia. (n.d.). Gold Mercury International.
[7] Hochma Rand, D. (2013). Roots of the Arab Spring: Contested Authority and Political Change in the Middle East. University of Pennsylvania Press.
[8]Report: 338 killed during Tunisia revolution. Associated Press via FoxNews. 5 May 2012.
[9] Euromaidan was the term given for the Ukranian wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in the country, which began on the night of 21 November 2013 with public protests in Maidan Nezalezhnosti ("Independence Square") in Kiev, demanding closer European integration.
[10] The Untold Story of the Ukrainian Revolution. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.globalfundforwomen.org/impact/news/196-2014/2155-the-untold-story-of-the-ukrainian-revolution
[11] Ibid.
[12] El Morabet Belhaj, Rabia. Wishes, Demands and Priorities of National and Regional Women’s Organisations in the MENA Region. Anje Wiersinga, M.D.: n.p., 2013. Print.
[13] New Tunisian Constiitution Adopted". Tunisia Live. 26 January 2014. Retrieved 26 January 2014.
[14] Ajroudi, Asma. "Kalthoum Kannou, Tunisia’s First Female Presidential Candidate." Http://english.alarabiya.net/. Al Arabiya News, 2014. Web. 07 May 2015.

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