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Child of Today is Man of Tomorrow

Life is not worth living without the Smile of a child

Thursday, November 27, 2014

SMILES THAT IGNITE PASSION



Dense rows of white tents and long lines of listless people that are queuing for a small portion of food and water, of which there is never enough quantity to reach everyone. This was the daily image of Ras Jdir refugee camp in Rmeda where I volunteered during the Libyan Civil War. When I first arrived to the Tunisian-Libyan border in June 2011 the total number of refuges reached almost one million.
We organized caravans brining donations from Tunis (the capital city of Tunisia) to the camp – despite all the conditions of insecurity of the trip. Beside our typical cargo – toys, food, water and covers – we also brought joy and hope to the refugees. Though our main targets were the young refugees, we indirectly sparked the solidarity in the Tunisian society that resulted in the collection of huge donations for weeks to come.
When I first arrived, the one mission I had for every single activity I carried out was to draw smiles on the children’s faces. Just after a few hours on my first day I realized that such a mission in the midst of the crisis is not just about giving joy to other people but also about giving a special meaning to my own life. These children that I was trying to support opened my eyes on what my passion in life is.
One day, while I was gathering the kids for the afternoon activities, a five-year-old Libyan refugee asked me:
“Why are these people fighting?”
I followed his gesturing hand, as it pointed to the queue of refugees waiting for lunch. That image – of a dispute over food – was one of many daily conflicts in the camp. “They are not fighting, they are asking for lunch in different ways because they come from different cultures” – I answered. It was this singular experience that taught me the importance of peacebuilding, coexistence and intercultural dialogue among the cultures.
Behind these daunting scenes of suffering in a refuge camp, I was also inspired by life-changing stories of African migrant workers in Libya. I learned about the traditional African beat and dance from Mali, special naming rituals from Ghana, slave trade that is still practiced in Ethiopia, the colonial creation of Gambia out of the Senegambia, the Somalian Civil War, and other stories that set me on my current path as a peacebuilder. These stories also influenced the process of shaping my own character. This exploration of African historiography, opened channels for understanding the continent. Since then, my compass has pointed me to explore even more about peace and conflict dynamics in Africa.
A few months after my experience at the Libyan borders, I took a trip to Kenya where I launched a project called Africa Inspire Project with the crucial support of a wonderful Kenyan team.  I had keenly followed the democratic rise in Kenya especially after the historic elections in the year 2002. Following the peaceful 2013 general elections, I decided to explore and highlight the role of youth in the peacebuilding process that had participated in the previous 2007-2008 post-elections outbreak of violence. Having experienced the 2011/2012 post-elections frustration in Tunisia and Egypt when monitoring the elections, I had a desire to learn more about Kenya’s experience and promote its model of choosing peace over violence. Thus, I decided to produce the documentary, Kenya’s Conscious Transformation.
I have been challenged with the idea that conflicts in Africa are too complex to deconstruct or understand; however, I refused to give up my quest for searching for proactive solutions. I interviewed Kenyan community workers and youth leaders at the grassroots level as well as government officials, lawyers, award-winning journalists and electoral officials at the national level. Unlike what I had seen in the international media – which portrays a situation of tension and potential violence – what I found in Kenyan society was instead resilience and commitment to make peace possible. After that discovery, my quest for combining art with the usage of alternative media to change this negative portrayal of Africa has only intensified.
Coming from a region where we have been going through many uprisings and revolutions… where everyone around me has lost hope in peace because of the rise of terrorism on a precedential scale… where young activists are falling into depression, desperation, breakdowns, and many times are completely burned-out… It was not a surprise that some of them turned to the usage of violence as the only language that could be heard. I believe that making peace starts from believing in the existence of peace and the sole belief that peace can be sustained. Young people need to see successful models and positive stories to reflect on their understanding of violence and its impact.
My blog, my documentaries and everything else that I do are only the first steps in achieving the ultimate goal of building peace and understanding by raising people’s awareness so that they can rethink their perceptions of each other. Contributing to peacebuilding in Africa defines Who am and aspire to be and at a same time gives me a motivation to serve others like I did at Ras Jdir refugee camp – uplifting others with positive vibes and voices, and inspiring them through what I capture and deliver with the lens of my camera.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Statement of the Rustler’s Valley Youth Retreat



We are 60 diverse young people from all continents of the world who met in Rustler’s Valley, South Africa from November 16 to 19, 2014 to discuss the state of civil society around the world and consider our role as young people within it. We do not claim to speak for all youth, or for the diverse views from within our own countries, but rather we seek to lend our voices to the on-going debate about the role of civil society in the social, political and economic transformation of the world. We also want to respond to and further develop the conversation begun by the Open Letter for Activists as young people engaged at grassroots, national and international levels.

Increasingly, the face of civil society around the world is a young one. Yet, we recognize much may be learned from other generations; their struggles, histories and lessons. Although we will face many of the challenges of the future, we believe that with intergenerational partnerships and a shared responsibility, we can transform civil society and therefore global society.

Current strategies to address restrictions on civil society space are failing. To create the necessary space at the national level, we should develop radical tactics to mobilize non traditional civil society groups, create platforms for international solidarity, and develop safe spaces where we can come together in a conducive environment to address these issues.

After much reflection, we collectively arrived at four primary topics of concern to those present: race, gender and sexual orientation; democratization of our own organisations and power structures; reform of relationships between civil society and donor organisations; and the divide between grassroots movements and civil society organisations (CSOs).

Eliminating discrimination: Race, gender and sexual orientation
As youth, we witness and experience the on-going reality of discrimination in civil society based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. We call on all sectors, especially media, governmental, non-governmental, and religious organizations, and the private sector to acknowledge and combat discriminatory practices. Civil society should lead the way by respecting diversity and completely eliminating all forms of discrimination from our own environments.

Democratization of CSOs and power structures
As youth, we acknowledge that current political, social and economic systems and organizational structures favour the few, not the many. We emphasize our duty to democratise:
·       Public dialogue through the use of inclusive and accessible language to broaden participation and break down the hierarchy among civil society and the communities we seek to serve.
·       Structures of power that prevent us from collaborating across issues and themes to establish civil society-wide avenues of influence and the elevation of our collective voice.
·       Access to intergovernmental and civil society processes for local and grassroots social movements.
·       Relationships between large civil society organizations and grassroots movements through the adoption of and respect for higher ethical standards.

Additionally, we should establish new methods of ensuring transparency, through the development of:
·       Conflict of interest indices;
·       Organization-wide gender parity measures;
·       Reporting on executive salaries and board fees;
·       Cooperation indices, and;
·       Mechanisms that ensure the full integration of all stakeholders into decision-making processes, including volunteers.

Rethinking relationships between civil society and donor organisations
As youth, the driving force of our work is our own vision, passion and values. To better serve those with whom we work, we must question the current relationships between donors and recipients. We pledge to:
·       Acknowledge the need to be financially autonomous through self-sustainability.
·       Mobilize unions through membership fees as a way of engaging our own constituencies to ensure their ownership and responsibility in our work.
·       Create alternative and innovative solutions to generate funds for our work.
·       Encourage donors to explore avenues of promoting collaboration between and with civil society organizations.
 
As youth, we see the increasing danger in becoming more accountable to funding sources than the communities we purport to serve. We recognize the need to first hold ourselves to account, and then:
·       Increase accountability of the international community to its by commitments and constituents
·       Develop the advocacy skills of community members to more effectively claim their rights

Relationship between Grassroots and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)
The increasing importance of grassroots actors, both formal and informal, is undeniable in today’s world. Gone are the days where NGOs may claim to represent the “voices” of communities. Our communities can and do speak for themselves and stand on their own work. They invert power structures through community-driven development and building people-power globally. We believe in the following tenants: 

·       Access. NGOs should work to access, identify and develop leaders and existing solutions within communities. Serving as enablers, we can support accessibility to and sharing of the core resources needed to foster greater impact.
·       Sustainability. NGOs should promote capacity-building and community ownership to both catalyse the emergence of new grassroots groups and ensure existing groups continue their work self-sufficiently and sustainably. Instead of providing ready-made solutions, the focus should be on connecting likeminded leaders in decentralized networks of information sharing.
·       Measuring success. NGOs should work with communities to develop new, community-supported, ways of measuring and interpreting success around the values of sustainable change and community ownership.
·       Reimagining the playing field. NGOs should work to reorient all funding systems to align with these tenants and the under acknowledged needs of grassroots organizations.

As young people fighting for social justice, we make these criticisms and suggestions with the hope that they will contribute to a reimagining of the role, vision and methods of civil society. We recommit our lives to the struggle against inequality, poverty, environmental degradation and all injustices in whatever shape they assume.

We perceive the vision of our letter as an invitation to all—including young people and those in decision-making positions—to take immediate action to transform civil society. Let this letter stand not only as our message to civil society, but also as a broader commitment to move forward with confidence and purpose towards a just, sustainable and peaceful world. 



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

TUNISIA: Compromise-style politics


Around 5 million Tunisians were registered to vote, and 65 % of them did. Nidaa Tounes won 85 of 217 seats. This party was formed in 2012 and unites supporters of the pre-revolutionary regime, trade unions, opposition activists and anti-Islamist groups.

The Islamist party Ennahda, which has historical ties to Egypt’s Muslim Brothers, came in second with 69 seats. In the Constituent Assembly, it was the strongest party, and led a coalition government called Troika for two years after the revolution. Ennahda later gave up administrative power and agreed to a technocratic government when it became obvious that Troika rule had become divisive. People were upset because the government had not been able – or perhaps unwilling – to prevent two assassinations. Partly inspired by the Muslim Brothers’ disaster in Egypt, Ennahda’s priorities became passing the new constitution and preparing orderly elections.

Ennahda’s two secular coalition partners were punished by the electorate. Other secular parties fared better. Radical Salafis were sidelined and will not play a role in parliament.

Both Nidaa and Ennahda ran professional, rational and pragmatic campaigns. Neither party claimed to offer solutions to all problems or to possess an eternal truth. On the other hand, both indicated that they wanted to assume responsibility. Nidaa strategically argued:  “Not voting for Nidaa is a vote for Ennahda”.

Tunisia has been through many political crises since Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the dictator, was toppled in early 2011. These crises were resolved in national dialogue. Compromise-style politics has worked. The election results show that Tunisians appreciate this, and that they want politicians to stay on this path. It was most welcome that Ennahda’s leadership congratulated Nidaa graciously.

The next major step will be the formation of the new government. Nidaa has three options. It can form an alliance with smaller secular parties, join forces with Ennahda or establish another technocrat government. The decision will not be taken fast. Beji Caid Essebsi, the leader of Nidaa, has said: “Everything will wait until after the presidential elections.” Those elections will take place at the end of November, and a run-off election may be needed in December. Nidaa suggests  it may ally with Ennahda if the Islamists support Essebsi's campaign to become president. He is the Nidaa candidate.

Twenty-seven other politicians are running too. Essebsi is the frontrunner, but he is also the oldest candidate. A lawyer and politician, Essebsi held several important positions in Tunisia between 1963 and 1991, under both Habib Bourguiba and Ben Ali, before being appointed prime minister of the first transitional government in 2011.

Essebsi likes to speak of the “the prestige of the state”, pointing to the need to stabilise Tunisia’s politics, economy and security. Supporters say only he can stop the rise of Muslim fundamentalism. His opponents, on the other hand, accuse him of being a product of the ancien regime. Some  leaders want the smaller secular parties to unite behind a single presidential candidate to beat Essebsi.

Mustapha Ben Jaafar, who is the Social Democrat who headed the Constituent Assembly, could be their man. Other contenders in the presidential race include the entrepreneur Slim Riahi and Moncef Marzouki, the current president. Kalthoum Kannou is the only woman running for the highest office. She is a champion of judicial independence and known as a fierce opponent of the former Ben-Ali regime.

Ennahda stated  it will not compete in the presidential race. It is not officially backing any candidate, but many of its members support Marzouki on social media.

In any case, the next president will have a the huge responsibility to restore stability, security and economic prospects. Terrorism is rocking the Arab world, and Tunisia needs to find its path. The good news, however, is that the next president will not enjoy absolute powers. The government and future legislation will depend on the recently elected parliament.


Monday, November 10, 2014

GENDER: BETWEEN PERCEPTION & REALITY


Co-writing the article with Katharina Walbert 
Published on European Youth Press Magazine during Peace Journalism Meeting 
"Rethinking Journalism" in Berlin

Republished on the North South Centre

While lyrics of the German anthem call for a “united Fatherland,” in other parts of the Mediterranean, many Arab countries are referred to as “the Motherland.” For decades, gender has been perceived differently where women and men are treated based on the influence of cultures, media and the marketing industry.

Tunisia, has been a leading country on women’s rights in its region. Tunisia’s laws have provided women an immersive measure of equality largely absent among its neighboring countries. Women have one of the most progressive Personal Status Codes: polygamy there is banned, and women have equal rights in marriage and divorce. The code also guarantees strict women rights in the criminalisation of domestic abuse and marital rape. On the other hand, this very Code has settled discriminatory provisions. For instance, According to Article 58, judges can grant custody to either the mother or the father based on the best interests of the child, but prohibits the mother from gaining custody if she has remarried. No such restriction applies to fathers. Unequal inheritance and the total absence of shelters for homeless, abused or battered women are still one of Tunisia’s biggest issues.

In Austria, things look quite different. There are approximately 30 women shelters located all over the country. Women who are in danger receive aid and protection from the state. Beyond that, Austria fosters strong gender-sensitive language discussions and initiatives. The Austrian anthem, for example, has been changed: The line which once referred to Austria’s “great sons,” was modified to now reflect Austria’s “sons and daughters.” Although there are laws protecting women, punishment for sexual harassment and rape are still low. According to § 201 StGB (Austria’s panel code), rape is prosecuted with a prison sentence between six months up and 10 years. In cases where the action is especially violent, or causes the death of the victim, the punishment can be raised up to 20 years in prison. However, perpetrators of sexual violence are often released after just a few years. Marital rape has been penalized in Austria since 2004, but refusal of sexual actions within marriage is still a reason for getting divorced. In addition to rape and sexual abuse, “every day-sexism” is problematic. Sexual harassment often happens in public spaces and work environments. Although the topic is highly discussed, the harassment is not deterred. Almost every woman has been sexually harassed in some manner at least once in her life.

Patrick Grunhag, a German gender-activist and member of Pinkstinks– a campaign that aims to challenge the heavily stereotyped roles of young children in media and marketing–thinks that Arab women are still fighting for the right to education and that “men have more power because of the religion.” He adds: “Women are punished when they are raped.” On the other shore of the Mediterranean, Alia Awada, a Lebanese activist and co-founder of Fe-Male, believes that laws protect women in Europe: “As long as there is a law to be implemented and respected, then it’s a way to protect women.” She believes that women in the Arab region “have a very long way to achieve women’s rights.”

The activists have also stated their perceptions regarding each other’s field of expertise. Alia had the chance to work with Oxfam on an inequality campaign in the UK, and deduced that “there’s no gender equality in the UK, even among women themselves.” Patrick also believes that in Western Europe, feminists shouldn’t talk on behalf of women “if they want to wear the veil or not.” He adds: “We should be an open society that accepts other cultures as we claim. As feminists movements, we shall connect, listen and help other movements when they ‘want [us] to,’ show how it works in our society, but not ‘tell’ them what they ‘want.’”

Sexual harassment, gender-insensitive language, the representation of women in the media, and sexism in advertisement are common struggles to mention a few. In Western Europe, products for children are overtly gender stereotyped. “There are two different types of nachos, a spicy one for boys and milder softer one for girls,” Patrick describes. “We also have BEEF Magazine, which is targeting men based on the prejudice that only men are interested in barbecues,” he adds. Patrick also criticizes casting shows like “Germany’s Next Top Model” broadcasted on Austrian and German networks that “show girls that they have to use make up and wear high heels to be considered beautiful and popular.” The ad and media industries try to shape the ideal woman looks, be it in weight or looks.

Alia is fighting gender stereotypes through television programs, talk shows and commercials in Lebanon as well. “We are still using images of women on TV that we’ve been using for 40 years now,” she confirms. One of her organization’s advocacy projects was an online campaign raising awareness on these stereotypes in the media. Alia clearly states the danger in the use of “sexually violent” images as a “joke” on TV. Overtime, violence against women becomes normalized and emphasized in society and in people’s mindset. Interestingly, Alia and Patrick both mention the same example of a female portrayal by the marketing industry used to sell cars, by which beautiful women are always placed next to. “Even when a woman is in power, the media discusses her fashion rather than her leadership,” Alia concluded. 



Thursday, November 6, 2014

MULTIPLE IDENTITIES, WHERE DO I BELONG?




I grew up with multiple identities that I questioned throughout my teen years. The strongest identity I was brainwashed with, is being “Arab”. Since primary school, my education, which curriculum I didn’t choose, has been mainly about the Arab civilization and the invention of the zero! My library has been full of books of Gibran Khalil Gibran and Mahmoud Darwish.

I actually loved Arabic, which I believe is my native language. I used to write a lot of poetry and short stories and have always been top of my Arabic prosody class. I lived in a country that has always been portrayed as part of the larger Arab region, with which it shares a language and many cultural elements, including a political identification.

I then learned French since the 3rd grade, which cultivated my Mediterranean identity. But French, as my Algerian friend mocks, “is just a bad habit”. The sense of national identity is constantly maintained by reference to recent national history, particularly the struggle against French colonialism (1881–1956) and the subsequent efforts to create a modern society. This narrative is persistently rehearsed in the sequence of public holidays, in the names of streets, and in the subject matter of films and television shows, but especially in history classes.

Regional dialects are also tending to disappear under pressure from mass media centered in Tunis where French is the language of the “elite”, because massive French investment ensured that the business elite valued French speaking employees.

My Maghrebine identity surfaces naturally though, by frequent contact with our neighbors. In the summer, Tunisian coastal cities fill up with Algerian tourists and regular trade flows on the borders with Libya. My Muslim identity also rises strongly from memorizing the Quran in preparatory school to religious classes in primary school and Islamic festivals throughout the year. But there was always a confusing mixture between culture and religion and that’s probably why the world also confuses all Arabs as Muslims!

In the end, I chose to embrace these complex identities because all of them undeniably make me who I am today. However, unlike the majority of Tunisians, if not all, I’ve never felt that I belong to the Middle East because I’m Arab Muslim, or to Europe because I speak French or to the Maghreb just because we make couscous. These identities were attributed to me as I was born Muslim. I was told to be Arab, my education system taught me one side of my history and my political system tied me with Europe and the Maghreb.

At the age of 13, while living in a southern city called Medenine, I visited neighboring cities, among which a small town called Matmata where I found out about “Tamazight”. I thought people were speaking a very hard southern accent I couldn’t understand, but then the children I was playing with told me that Tamazight is the native language of North Africa. Kids younger than me - some of them dropped out of school - knew the history that I’ve never read in books or studied in school. I realized then that our beautiful history of thousands of years is manipulatively summed up in our school studies, as general as “Tunisia's geopolitical location was a crossroad of civilizations”.  We’ve been taught that by the end of the nineteenth century, Tunisians comprised Moors, Turks, Jews, Andalusians, Arabs, and various sorts of Europeans but no clear mention was made about the original population of Amazigh.

A certain article mentioned that you can only find “one sentence on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki” in textbooks in Japan. Well, I might understand why China teaches a different history to its children than what Japan teaches its citizens, clearly based on their relationship. However, what I cannot understand is why Tunisia’s textbooks will totally remove the beginnings of our recorded history where Tunisia was inhabited by Amazigh. Instead it was narrowed to a glimpse about Phoenicians, Romans and the Vandals, then a closer look at the seventh century when the Byzantines were replaced by Muslim Arabs – when Tunisia became Arabic-speaking and Muslim. We end up at the medieval Hafsid dynasty and 1574, with the incorporation into the Ottoman Empire, then a bigportion on the French colonization.

So, education played the major role in growing the Arab identity, strengthened by international categorization describing our region as “Arab Africa”. But, education is based on policies directed by certain political orientations.  Our politics since independence, with the support of Europe, aimed to tie us with the other part of the Mediterranean and thus disconnected us from the continent.  By the end of the day, there is no clear feature of the Tunisian society - a very attached society to the Arab culture with family values on the one hand and very independent citizens with well-established principles of the Modern State, on the other hand. The missing picture was the African identity, denied or ignored by the greater majority of Tunisians. By doing so Tunisians even deny their ignorance of their own history, their racism towards other Africans and discrimination towards Amazigh. Instead, they claim living in “one Tunisia for everyone in coexistence” from the lens of pan-Arabism.

Reading more about different narratives and having Amazigh friends, I constantly learn about Tamazgha, Ifriqiya and how Carthage has been the metropolis of Punic civilization in Africa and capital of the province of Africa in Roman times. I learned more about Africa listening to Senegalese and Malian students, most of them who had terrible racist experiences living in Tunis. My quest to learn more about my vanished African identity has only intensified. Still, I couldn’t even find African literature on our library bookshelves or African courses at our colleges. So, I decided to go out to explore Africa for myself, outside the boxes of my education and political systems - a place from which I believe I’m totally disconnected while born and raised inside it!

Life just paved the way for me to be all over North and East Africa, most of the West and few countries in the Southern part. I then met Nubi friends from Egypt, learned about Swahili in East Africa and the Bantu across the African Great Lakes. I found out that my identity lies even deeper and it’s not only the dilemma of Tunisia, but also North Africa at large, a region in denial of its Africanism. To bridge the widening gap of the North with the rest of the continent, we need to open an honest discussion about our Africanism, transfer vanished knowledge, re-read our history and connect the continent by celebrating its diversity from both the North and Sub-Saharan Africa. While strengthening our understanding and self-discovery within the continent, we need to strongly face the world with their enforced division of Africans ethnically, culturally, economically and politically.



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

GENDER EQUALITY: FORWARD OR BACKWARD?




Since the early 20th century, Tunisian women played a key role in securing the independence of their country. August 13, 1956, marked the promulgation of the Code of Personal Status (CPS) that included progressive laws aiming at the institution of gender equality.

The Code is known for abolishing polygamy, creating a judicial procedure for divorce, the regulation of family law, marriage, social security, and abortion, among other issues. At the time, it also gave women a status that allows them to create their own businesses, have a bank account and the ability to have their own passports.

The Tunisian woman then, has been portrayed and perceived in the region as independent and emancipated. This image has been well used by both former presidents, constituting a main argument for the country's favorable image in the West, because the suppression of free expression and political opposition tarnished the country's reputation abroad. Under Bourguiba's administration, Tunisia profited from a solid reputation as a civil and secular republic in a region more often comprised of military dictatorships and religiously dependent monarchies.

However, the Code itself was promulgated in an authoritarian manner, as it wasn't the object of public debate, or considered in a constituent assembly. So, the leadership’s reputed modernist conviction masked its democratic deficit. Tunisia is considered as exemplary in advancing women’s rights in the region. However, if you look more closely to the society you may wonder if this image corresponds to reality. Domestic violence, for example is tarnishing the country's shining reputation.

Moreover, the same progressive Code still contains discriminatory provisions that make women “second-class citizens” in their families. For instance, Article 58 of the CPS gives judges the discretion to grant custody to either the mother or the father based on the best interests of the child, but prohibits a mother to have her children live with her if she has remarried. No such restriction applies to fathers.

The Transition

As in many conflicts, women and children are the major victims. During the 2011 Tunisian revolution, women have been subjected to all kinds of violence. A woman’s body has become a threat to her life. Following the overthrown of the former regime, the violence escalated to the kidnapping, raping, trafficking and sexual harassment of girls. Men had even joked about it on Facebook, posting: "The girls that will not be kidnapped today means they're not pretty enough"!

Since the spark of the uprising, women have been frontline protesters, journalists, photographers, volunteers, elections observers, bloggers, and campaigners despite the violence they have to endure. The police, for instance, was taking advantage of the chaos to sexually harass women on account of them being protesters, journalists or detainees. Police might even share their violence to the victim as was the case in September 2012, when a woman had been arrested and charged with public indecency because she had been raped by two police officers! So, Tunisia is still the place where both law and patriotic society would take the side of the perpetrator.

A few weeks after the National Constituent Assembly elections, Souad Abderrahim, the “non-veiled” spokeswoman of the Islamic party Ennahda, said that “single mothers are a disgrace to Tunisians and do not have the right to exist”. She added: “In Arab-Muslim customs and traditions in Tunisia there are no room for full and absolute freedom…”. Such statements eventually paved the way for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, calling for polygamy and Shariaa Law.

For a country that glows like a beacon of women's progress in North Africa, the government's first shelter for survivors of domestic violence was only inaugurated in December 2012. Tunisia didn’t have one single shelter for women abused, homeless or subjected to violence. Only on 2012 International Day of Women, the provisional interim president Marzouki mentioned the need for the country's first public shelter for victims of domestic violence. Only then, did the Ministry of Women and Family take the first step by bringing the issue of violence against women on board. A few months later, a pilot center, which can only accommodate 50 women and their children, was opened.

On the one hand, Tunisia’s new Constitution, adopted on January 27, has strong protection for women’s rights. Article 46, declares that “The State commits to protect women’s established rights and works to strengthen and develop those rights.” It further guarantees “equality of opportunities between women and men to have access to all levels of responsibility and in all domains” and “guarantees the elimination of all forms of violence against women.” This is an improvement from previous constitutional drafts that invoked notions of “complementary” gender roles that risked diluting the principle of equality between men and women. One of the moments of backwardness was while discussing the issue of "Equality or Complementarity" between men and women after a century of guaranteeing progressive gender equality laws. On the other hand, the new constitution still fails to fully embody the principle of equality between the sexes as it refers to equal opportunity in “assuming responsibilities,” but not to the broader right to equality of opportunity in all political, economic, and other spheres.

Looking forward

The CPS, in many cases, has been used by the male counterpart as a “perfect and complete” paper although it dates back to the independence days! Women’s rights should not only be guaranteed by the CPS but also by the right to education, security, health and employment. The notion of “the most progressive” code in the region doesn’t reflect the reality when it’s lagging far behind neighboring Morocco that has tens of shelters for women, while Tunisia is struggling to sustainably establish its first shelter.

Only in last April Tunisia officially lifted all of its specific reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which is an important step toward realizing gender equality. The government should next ensure that all domestic laws conform to international standards and eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.

Tunisia is also one of a handful of members of the African Union that did not sign, let alone ratify, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), which sets out additional rights to CEDAW. To ensure that it continues this leadership on gender equality, Tunisia should also sign and ratify the Maputo Protocol.

Finally, both women and men have to protect women and help them understand that they are born with compromised rights and freedoms. When we talk about gender equality, we usually talk exclusively about women and we forget that gender includes men and women. Gender-based violence, for instance, is mainly about empowering women and exclude the essential contribution of men as perpetrators of violence in most cases. Engaging in creating male awareness of gender issues can let men question their involvement in the problem and in doing so, bring about gender equality.



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