Fighting for political participation in Tunisia
Serena Tramonti Media and Advocacy Officer, Nessryne Jelalia Programme and MEAL Officer
21st Jul 2014
On April 23 dozens of Tunisian women gathered in front of the National Assembly in the capital to protest against moves to curtail women's rights and ensure that women enjoy equal representation in political life. Here Nessryne Jelalia and Serena Tramonti share the stories of two female activists in Tunisia.
It is sunny and hot outside the National Constitutional Assembly for Tunisia - and noisy too.
A group of about 50 women have gathered outside the Assembly and are demanding 50% women's representation in all electoral lists in Tunisia. Many women who are here today, openly protesting with their placards and chants, fought for women's rights during Ben Ali's dictatorship before he was ousted during the 2011 uprising. Many of them had to put up with physical and psychological abuse, some of them even had to go to prison simply because they demanded their rights.
"I want real change for rural women in Tunisia"
Amongst them there is a young woman, Fatma, who started getting involved in politics only a year ago. Fatma, a marine biology PhD candidate, started engaging with the Ligue des Electrices Tunisiennes (League of Tunisian Female Electors, or LET) - one of the organisations that works with Oxfam in Tunisia to increase women's political participation and more widely their ability to reclaim their rights.
"Like many I was caught between two historic moments: the previous established autocratic system and a brand new democracy," Fatma says.
"I wanted to be involved with something that has the power to make decisions and bring change. Civil society and NGOs have a big role and responsibility as watch dogs, but ultimately it is political parties that are elected and need to make decisions for the country."
"I wanted to be involved with something that has the power to make decisions and bring change."
Fatma got involved with LET and is now being trained in communications and campaigning skills. She meets regularly with her mentor, and is now on the executive board of one of the major opposition parties in Tunisia.
"Initially I was just interested in understanding how politics worked. Everything was new to me. Now I am the lead mobiliser for young people and women in Manouba. I mobilise hundreds of people".
"I want real change for rural women in Tunisia," Fatma explained. "I want to improve their living conditions, the services they can access. There is a huge generation gap, especially in rural areas, in terms of aspirations and opportunities. It is important that, after so many years of neglect, women in rural areas are invested in".
Bringing hope for women
Another activist is Basma Sallemi. Basma, a mother of three, teaches administrative law in Jendouba, the major city in the Jendouba governorate in northwest Tunisia.
Basma is part of Oxfam's AMAL programme, which is working across four countries in the region - Tunisia, Morocco, Yemen and Palestine - to improve women's political participation. Basma is being trained by LET on her lobbying and communications skills. She is a candidate for the teacher's union and wants to improve her lobbying skills in order to have an impact on the political decisions affecting education in her country.
"Some areas in Tunisia risk being cut out of development and investment. In Jendouba, where I work, resources are scarce," she said. "We have a great opportunity to improve the education system in Tunisia now, and that's why I got involved in the union. I want to have a say in how the education system is resourced and organised."