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Tunisia: "With the death of Beji Caid Essebsi, feminism has lost an ally"
Women attend the funeral of President Béji Caïd Essebsi, in Tunis, on July 27, 2019. Ammar Awad / REUTERS

Created thirty years ago, the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD), one of the oldest feminist associations in Tunisia, held its Saturday summer university. 3 to Tuesday, August 6 around the theme "Women, Body and Sexuality in Feminist Thinking". The opportunity for Yosra Frawes, president of the association since April 2018, to look back on the victorious battles won and those that remain to be led in Tunisia.

Why did you choose themes such as sexuality and the body, subjects that are still taboo in Tunisia?

"All oppression of women goes through the control and domination of the body. AT"

It's a theme that has been chosen by a commission of the university of being constituted mainly of young people. They told us: "We want to talk about women's sexuality. AT" It must be remembered that the first meeting of the Maghreb within the Tunisian feminist movement had already asked this question in 1981. All oppression of women also involves the control and domination of the body. This question has always been crucial in our struggles: since the year 2000, we have created a commission on the bodily and sexual rights of women. We also wanted to remember that today there is a regression of these rights linked to the rise of conservatism, as well as a return to bad practices such as early marriage. . In addition, public policies do not allow women a real access to health and care, such as family planning.

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The ATFD has often been attacked for its assumed feminism, sometimes described as an ethnicist and bourgeois. Have these criticisms ceased?

The ATFD suffered from its origins and the appearance of the Tahar Haddad club, the first feminist bastion created in 1974 by this intellectual and human rights activist. The first reactions, even from the left, we were hostile, with the usual clichés: "Why are they dressed like that? "This is a group of lesbians who come to talk about their sexuality, bourgeois who come to impose ideas of the West", etc. For thirty years, we have continued to defend our ideas, despite the attacks, and that is what today is the foundation of our legitimacy. We always have the same determination to put our finger where it hurts. For example, to say that the veil was discriminatory and to have maintained this position has left us excluded from political responsibilities until today.

"What scares our destroyers is our strategy of openness and debate. AT"

We are a movement that brings the confrontation of ideas together. Our plan is to change mentalities, without waiting for legislation, even if it takes time. Many people are unaware that we are the first association to have created, in 1993, a center of listening and guidance for women victims of violence. It is this field experience that has allowed us to anchor this tradition of listening. We have received nearly 3,000 women since that date. Today we have five centers in the regions, as well as a structure for victims of economic and social violence. What scares our destroyers is our strategy of openness and debate. Because it is also she who makes our force of influence on laws and policies.

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Today, what about the feminist battles to be fought in Tunisia?

We recently won a battle with the Violence Against Women Act, passed in 2017. But five main priorities remain.

The first is the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women in the context of the family. The personal status code must be reformed [corpus juridique promulgué en 1957 sur les droits des femmes], which still imposes a form of legal discrimination. That a Tunisian woman is always dependent on a dowry to get married is totally anachronistic. The formulation of this provision is also terrible: it says that the woman can not upset her husband during the consummation of the marriage if he has paid the dowry; to say that it allows rape. The Personal Status Code must be harmonized with Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees gender equality.

Then you need a real application of the new law against violence. So far, we have not seen any concrete progress. Some magistrates refer to the criminal code to escape the application of this law, while others refuse the measures of distance, under the pretext that the Lice is still the head of the family and the owner of the house.

"Women are the first victims of global warming. AT"

The third priority is economic and social rights: the fight against unemployment, unequal pay, for women farmers for example. All these problems are systemic. I think that ATFD must play a more important role, not just support, in proposing real policy solutions.

There is also the defense of sexual and bodily rights. We must resist the re-gressions and raise awareness as much as possible so that the legitimacy of these rights is no longer a problem.

Finally, our last axis, it is the ecological and environmental question. Women are the first victims of pollution and global warming. However, there is almost no green program in Tunisia or work on corporate environmental responsibility.

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The proposal of President Bà © ji Caïd Essebsi, decreed on July 25, to reform the law on inheritance will not have finally been discussed. or voted during this term of office. Do you see that as a failure?

I have been fighting for equality in inheritance since joining ATFD in 1999, and I remain optimistic. This question has been disrepaired and, whatever time it takes, we are determined that this project will succeed. Beyond this conviction, we had promises from political parties. They were reluctant to defend the project before the elections [qui doivent se tenir en septembre], but many said that the question would be asked as soon as the new Assembly is in place.

There are only 5% women listed on the 1,572 lists for the legislature, against 7% in 2011, and only one candidate for the moment in the presidential election. Why this decline of women's place in politics?

I think there is a disappointment. Women have fled massively to save the country and preserve their gains, they have been promised to promote their rights, and a sort of "al'-lan had brought women to the polls in 2014. Certainly important milestones have been achieved. Such as circular 73, which abolishes the prohibition of marriage between a Tunisian woman and a non-Muslim, or the law against trafficking in persons. But little has been done to enforce law 58 on violence. Neither has there been any real emergence of women in the political arena. Not to mention the verbal aggression and political violence of which deputies continue to be victims. Finally, many women have not seen their economic and social situation improve. This is particularly the case for agricultural workers and all those working in the informal sector.

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President Bà © ji Caïd Essebsi has pushed for the adoption of several bills for the rights of women. Are you afraid of no longer having such support for power?

"The president has taken huge steps, but he was not a feminist. AT"

He was listening and understood the issue of women's issues in general. He knew that the Tunisian identity is based on this crucial idea that societal change can only be done by changing the condition of women. To call him a feminist or to say that he did it by political expediency, I think it will be in the history of deciding on it. But concretely, he has taken huge steps. He was not necessarily a feminist: he had thus dropped the draft code of individual liberties, which also concerned the issues of equality, to keep only the project of equality in the inheritance.

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But we lost an ally, who knew how to seize the political opportunity to advance sensitive issues. Today, the Béji Caïd Essebsi era is over, but we will continue with the same determination. We have allies in the world of politics, workers and intellectuals. And then Tunisia has made commitments with its Constitution, so there is no reason why it does not advance. Whatever the results of future elections, political actors can not override Article 46 of the Constitution, which requires them to preserve the gains and promote women's rights.

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