4 February 2019

Tunisia: Women's Gains - "Tree That Hides the Forest... of Suffering"

analysis

The latest report of the National Authority for the Fight against Human Trafficking (French: INLCTP) brought to light a dark and unseen side in connection to Tunisian women, notwithstanding largely hailed gains and significant progress in comparison with a number of countries.

Tunisian women, be they educated or illiterate, rural or living in urban areas, citizens or legal/ illegal residents, have become an essential link in the human trafficking chain. Once facing the charge of being "a victim," Tunisian women are now "involved" in offences and "culprits."

A legal arsenal, particularly a string of progressive laws enacted in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution, came to beef up women's freedoms and political, civic and social rights.

This includes the piece of legislation on violence against women and the anti-trafficking law, in addition to the enforcement of vertical parity since October 2014 elections and then horizontal and vertical parity in candidate lists starting from the 2018 municipal elections.

All this adds up to the ground-breaking Code of Personal Status that established the civic status of the family and banned polygamy.

This full panoply of laws helped women gain access to the majority of State institutions and elected structures. The rate of their representativeness in parliament stands at 35.94% (78 female MPs out of a total of 217), which earned Tunisia its 27th spot in global rankings.

Sixty-eight women are at the helm of municipalities, that is 19.5% of elected mayors (May 6, 2018 elections). The number of municipalities covered by the elections stood at 350.

This bright presence of Tunisian women in terms of numbers in some decision-making positions should not be "the tree that hides the forest."

Indeed, that presence does not truly reflect the situation of women in Tunisia, since the reality conceals another bleak picture often absent in the media and in the elitist treatment of women's. In that treatment there is absolutely no interest in the tragedies of rural women which are almost repeated on a daily basis. Indeed, rural women are not able to meet even their food needs of those of their children.

There is also mention of the sufferings endured by unemployed women or those undergoing violations behind walls of silence.

The indicators of women's presence in decision-making positions have not been translated in the level of women holding senior state positions. The rate of women ministers in the current government of Youssef Chahed does not exceed a tenth of the number of ministers. Three women ministers and two secretaries of state were named in the government composed of 30 ministers and 11 secretaries of state led by the Head of Government.

Besides, women in Tunisia have never headed one of the sovereign ministries throughout the history.

These indicators do not hide the situation of forgotten women in a country where poverty has been feminized. They do not also hide their multidimensional suffering, especially the crimes of human trafficking, marginalization, unemployment and multi-faceted poverty.

Women remain in Tunisia, as in other countries of the world and the Arab region, the most fragile group and that one that suffers the most.

According to the official statistics of the Ministry of Women, Family, Children and Elderly Affairs for the year 2017, the rate of advancement of women to career plans does not exceed 29.7 percent.

In contrast, the unemployment rate among females is twice that of males, i.e. 22.7 percent and 12.5 percent, respectively, according to the National Institute of Statistics.

The percentage of female higher education graduates rose to 38.7 percent compared to 18 percent among males in this group.

Living conditions and the lack of awareness among this group have most probably made of it an easy prey for Takfiri and terrorist groups.

Tunisian women represented 10 percent of the total number of women who were brainwashed to adopt the Takfiri ideology and actually travelled to hotbeds of conflicts and terrorism, according to the statistics of the Ministry of the Interior.

The report of the National Authority against Trafficking in Persons of 2018, the results of which were announced on January 23, 2019 reflected more accurately the face of this suffering.

It counted 239 victim women and girls (187 adults and 52 child victims) among 780 victims of trafficking crimes By 62.4 per cent compared to 144 male victims.

In a reading of these results, Chairperson of the Committee Roudha laabidi pointed out that women whether Tunisian or foreign are the most targeted in this crime, especially in the areas of sexual and economic exploitation and forced labor. She explained this fact by the masculine mentality that tends to employ women and easily exploit them in these various areas, since they accept harsh working conditions and a lower salary.

She stressed that the commission severely lacks material resources severely to be able to play its role of awareness and prevention to reduce the spread of these crimes and provide appropriate assistance to victims.

On their role in the crimes of trafficking in human beings, Laabidi stressed that they are not only victims but also perpetrators of such crimes since they were involved in attracting girls to domestic work and luring others among minors and adults into forced labor or sexual exploitation.

According to the report, forced employment affected besides Tunisian women, a number of foreign women who were exploited to work especially in nightclubs, bars, cafes and in homes after they were lured in their countries of origin (in 16 cases from Côte d'Ivoire, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Cuba) or were brought in for studies or to work in other areas more respectful of the human person.

They instead find themselves victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation; the total number of victims of sexual exploitation is 35 women.

President of the National Union of Tunisian women Radhia Jerbi said women are almost "easy prey" to these networks because of the ease of bringing victims under control, especially in the areas of economic exploitation.

She said this has gone as far as to offer girls to work as housemaids in a practice closer to slavery and servitude in the Middle Ages, pointing out that intellectuals are among the exploiters of these girls in conditions degrading to human dignity.

Jerbi considered that the lack of resources prevents the civil society structures to take upon their role in monitoring and limiting such crimes.

Women have become involved or active in crimes of trafficking in persons. The Authority has documented the involvement of 99 women in these cases, i.e. 49.7%, distributed between 70 involved in economic exploitation cases, 19 involved in cases of sexual exploitation and 10 in forced labor, compared with the involvement of 100 males in all these crimes.

Minister of Women, Family, Children and Elderly Affairs Naziha Laabidi told the committee in charge at the House of People's Representatives efforts are focused on standing up to offences of trafficking in persons.

A programme will be devised to put an end to minor girls being hired as domestic workers and dropping out of school. This fits within an agreement inked on January 22 with the National Authority for the Fight against Human Trafficking.

Tunisian women are no exception for human trafficking takes a huge toll on 21 million people victims of forced labour across the globe, including victims of forced sexual exploitation, figures of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) show.

Did Tunisian women really get emancipated? Do they still have a long way to go? The question is even more pressing as violations continue.

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