Prostitutes protested at the gates of the National Constituent Assembly in the Tunisian city of Sousse on March 11 to demand that the brothel where they used to work be reopened. These sex workers made a public appearance, thus liberating themselves from social dogmas that marginalized them and from the disdainful looks often thrown their way. They proclaimed their right to work legally because they have legal authorization and approval from the local authorities. It is certainly quite an unusual situation, but a very brave one, for an Arab country that is reportedly under the grip of Islamism.
We will definitely find out more about this situation in the coming days, whether the demands will be greeted by a favorable opinion and whether the Sousse prostitutes will get their clients back.
However, the conclusion that we can immediately draw is that the situation of women's rights is different from how some women are portraying it.
Indeed, being a prostitute is not a daily joy ride. While prostitution is one the oldest professions, it also one of the most difficult. Reaching the point of using one’s body to gain a living is disappointing, to say the least. However, when it comes to individual freedoms, these demands go hand in hand with the slogans advocated by many.
“My body belongs to me,” said Amina, an ex-Femen member who posed topless on the web. The Sousse prostitutes seem to be following this same trend of activism. So, who was Amina protesting for, on March 8, by showing up fully naked in a demonstration in the vicinity of the Louvre in Paris?
Perhaps she was thinking of fighting for her peers who are under the grip of conservatism. Yet, what Ettounsiya TV station broadcast on Saturday tends to say otherwise. A young Tunisian woman appearing on Naoufel Ouertani’s show proclaimed, loud and clear, her right to consume cannabis without fear of any punishment. She said that the courage she built during her imprisonment allowed her to challenge the social system that frowns upon cannabis consumption. She also added that she is a cannabis smoker and will never quit.
Tunisia is undoubtedly emancipated. While some might think that it is excessively emancipated, others believe that it is only emancipated as required by the context. Obviously, however, Tunisian women have long fought for ideas and ways to achieve them, rather than fighting for their rights to their own body.
Women have been reduced to an image of propaganda for the fallen regime, so they will definitely not be an image of propaganda for another regime sought by others. Their bodies will not be exploited for reasons that will eventually harm their interests, for public nudity serves no idea except that of the lack of means of expression. Thanks to many associative actions and individual initiatives, the female battle in Tunisia will not have as vector the body of the woman who cries out not to be considered as an object.
Actions such as those undertaken by Amina are more likely to derail Tunisian women from the route they have taken since the revolution, i.e., since their massive presence in demonstrations, their participation in the public arena as valued players and their involvement in actions related to civil society.
Work on women's affairs in Tunisia requires further consolidation and preservation. We must therefore be careful so that this does not jeopardize the achievements that others have fought for just because of a battle trend that is not in line with the context.
Tunisian women are generally emancipated from the conservative mentality, and this is quite obvious! Persistent cases of abuse against women — namely in terms of imposing a certain idea — are to be treated in a manner that is different from the biased and repulsive representation of modernism.
The fight for women's rights did not start on March 8, 2014. It actually started with the presence of notable female rulers Queen Dido and Queen Kahina in the history of this country, with the forward thinking of Tunisian reformer Tahar Haddad and the late President Habib Bourguiba, and with the unparalleled actions of Aziza Othmana and Bchira Ben Mrad.