Fighting violence against women is a major concern worldwide. Several countries have witnessed cases of violence against women, and Tunisia is no exception. Despite the existence of “forward-thinking” legislation in the Arab world, this fundamental violation of women's rights lingers.
With the resurgence of Islamist ideologies in Tunisian society, violence against women is increasing by the day. According to some of these ideologies, women are second-class citizens, a body or an object, according to their interpretations of religious precepts. According to these ideologies, women have to deal with the burden of traditions and a sexist mentality of male dominance.
On Aug. 13, 2014, the Constituent Assembly will consider the anti-women violence draft-law, as announced by the secretary of state in charge of family and women's affairs, Neila Chaabane. She said this law reflected the content of Article 46 of the constitution, which outlined that the state should take the necessary measures to eradicate violence against women. It's about time.
The Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD) began a campaign in early 2014 for the enactment of an anti-women violence law with the aim of encouraging the state to end the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators, and to define the public and private spaces where violence is practiced and adopt preventive measures.
The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, defines “violence against women” as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
In Tunisia, several reports have pointed to the scale of such a phenomenon, as evidenced by the survey of the National Board for Family and Population (ONFP), published in 2012. According to the study, about one in two women said they had been subjected to violence during their life, 47.1 % in urban areas and 48.7% in rural areas. Educated women were less affected, but the rate remained high: 49.5% of victims among the illiterate, with 41.66% of victims with higher education. The study shows that the main perpetrators of such violence are spouses, who are responsible for 47.2% of the physical violence cases, 68.5% of the psychological violence cases, 78.2% of the sexual violence cases and 77.9% of the economic violence cases.
M.L., a young entrepreneur, told Business News: “I do not dare talk about it because I know my family will say, ‘It's not so serious. It's not like he is beating you.’ I have a problem with my husband. He controls everything and suppresses me. Having my own business, I make a better living than my husband. At first, this was not a problem for him, but over time this has changed. Now he confiscates all my earnings. He tells me, ‘I'm the man and I am the one who should manage the household finances.’ He resorted to verbal and emotional abuse so that I give in and entrust him my bank accounts.”
Economic violence takes many forms in Tunisia. Some women are banned from working while others have their wages confiscated. Physical and psychological abuse of women is widespread in marriage, resulting in extreme cases of murder or suicide.
A report from the ONFP confirms that family members also practice violence against women, making up 43% of physical violence, 22.1% of economic violence and 16.7% psychological violence.
A high-school student who lives on the outskirts of Tunis told Business News, “The violence against me inside the family started during puberty. I have an older brother who started pressuring me. It started with banning me from wearing certain clothes, ‘to protect me from predators,’ as he said. During my adolescence, I had a group of friends with whom I wanted to go out, but my brother refused: ‘No outings before you are in the custody of your future husband. Only then will you be able to go out as much as you want,’ he used to tell me. I reacted by going out in secret, and one day he found out, and this is when it all went downhill. He started beating me at every opportunity and locking me in the house. He used to take me to school and wait for me. The problem is, when I used to tell my mother, she would answer, ‘He is your big brother; he is educating you.’”
Similar cases are widely spread in Tunisia, but they occur under the table because of the regressive mentality of men who think that, as males, they have to impose their domination over “the weaker sex.”
Cases of girls who are sold by their family to work as cleaning women, while the family members confiscate the girl’s salary, are also present in Tunisia. It is a flagrant economic violation that is still not talked about today.
Another taboo is incest practiced by fathers, uncles, cousins or brothers. There are no accounts on this subject due to the shame that makes the victim shut down and suffer from permanent psychological problems.
Women also suffer from violence outside the scope of family, with the ONFP reporting 21.3% of such cases as occurring in public places, such as on the street or at work.
R.S., a former employee at a private company, told Business News her story. “After I got my diploma, I was aware that it is going to be hard for me to find a job. But I was so happy to be recruited by a small, promising company. A soon as I started work, my boss started making inappropriate advances. It started with insinuations and ended with aggression in the workplace. I will spare you the details, as I still feel ashamed and guilty for not being able to defend myself. I had to quit my job after this incident without filing a complaint because of fear of dishonor and threats from the boss.”
Outside the scope of family, 14.8% of women are subject to psychological violence and 9.8% to physical violence. You won’t be able to find a Tunisian girl who hasn’t been a victim of verbal or physical aggression on the streets or on public transportation.
To live free of violence is a basic human right. After the adoption of Article 46 in the constitution and the removal of reservations on the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Tunisian authorities ought to abide by the provisions of this convention and work on its implementation. Gender-based discrimination and violence is widely spread in Tunisia. Tunisia must change the regressive attitudes and practices entrenched in society.
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