Tunisian women hit campaign trail as equals to men

Ines Boussetta, a candidate for the ruling Nida Tounes party, hits the campaign trail in northern Tebourba. (AFP)
Updated 27 April 2018
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Tunisian women hit campaign trail as equals to men

  • The North African country’s 2014 constitution has been praised as a key milestone, paving the way for greater equality
  • Fifty-two percent of Tunisia’s 5.3 million voters are under the age of 35

TEBOURABA, Tunisia: Tunisian women “have the chance to act,” says Ines Boussetta, as she hits the campaign trail in northern Tebourba, listening attentively to the problems of the rural region’s inhabitants.
Boussetta is one of hundreds of Tunisian women heading party lists in May 6 municipal polls — and for the first time, women will be on an equal footing with men, thanks to a new electoral law.
“I have faced many criticisms and commentaries, like ‘you are too young,’ ‘you don’t have political experience,’ ‘how can a woman lead a council?’” Boussetta, a candidate for the ruling Nida Tounes party, she says.
But “women today have the chance to act, to have an opinion that counts,” she added.
Around 100 party lists have been rejected for failing to meet a strict requirement for the candidacy of men and women to alternate in the municipal polls, the first since mass protests forced dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power in 2011.
Boussetta says she was attracted by Nida Tounes because its founder, Tunisia’s 91-year-old President Beji Caid Essebsi, has sought to promote the role of women and young people.
The head of state’s 2014 election triumph was “thanks to women,” says the former health volunteer.
The North African country’s 2014 constitution has been praised as a key milestone, paving the way for greater equality.
A law on violence against women, passed last year, came into force in January.
“A new political generation is in the process of appearing,” says Torkia Chebbi, vice president of the League of Tunisian voters, a group set up in 2011 to promote female participation in political life.
Fifty-two percent of Tunisia’s 5.3 million voters are under the age of 35.
Women now sit at the top of more than a quarter of the 2,074 party lists.
Many of the female candidates first dipped their toes into politics with the fall of Ben Ali through their work in civil society, Chebbi says.
But “without the law on parity, we would never have achieved such a figure, because attitudes continue to favor men,” says Chebbi.
The key parties, Nida Tounes and its junior coalition partner the Islamist Ennahda party, were found to have fulfilled the new gender requirement.
For Boussetta, who moves onto her next campaign stop in a modest black car, her experience working in the health sector makes improving infrastructure a big priority.
Many have placed their confidence in her “because she is young and sensitive to the needs of the region,” she says.
Boussetta’s family have a long history in Tebourba, where fresh street protests erupted in January this year against the high cost of living, unemployment and corruption.
And there is a yearning for change at the local level.
With the fall of Ben Ali seven years ago, municipalities collapsed.
While replaced by temporary councils, these are widely perceived as having failed to respond to communities’ needs.
There is hope that the upcoming elections could help improve daily life in the country, cleaning up public spaces, attracting new investment, and helping to develop marginalized regions.
“Tunisian women don’t have experience,” acknowledges Simone Susskind, a Belgian gender politics specialist who recently ran a workshop on female leadership.
“But they have to start somewhere.”


Millions of women still landless despite global push for equality

Updated 6 min 4 sec ago
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Millions of women still landless despite global push for equality

  • Throughout rural areas in Zimbabwe, for example, widows routinely find themselves harassed and exploited by in-laws claiming the property their husbands left behind
WASHINGTON: Millions of women worldwide are still unable to access and own land despite laws recognizing their rights, researchers and campaigners said on Monday as they urged countries to bridge the gap between policy and practice.
Patriarchal attitudes toward women and girls and a lack of knowledge of their own rights “prevent millions of women from owning land,” said Victoria Stanley, senior rural development specialist at the World Bank.
“Only 30 percent of the world’s population own land titles, and women are often the least likely to have any land registered,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of a World Bank conference in Washington, D.C.
“Stand for her land,” a campaign launched on Monday by the World Bank and advocacy groups including Landesa and Habitat for Humanity International, aims to change that by promoting better implementation of land laws for women.
Globally, more than 400 million women farm, yet only about 15 percent of farmland is owned by women, according to Landesa.
That inequality exposes women to all manner of rights abuses, rights activists say.
Throughout rural areas in Zimbabwe, for example, widows routinely find themselves harassed and exploited by in-laws claiming the property their husbands left behind.
Although Zimbabwe’s constitution gives women and men equal rights to property and land, in many rural communities tradition overrides national legislation, experts say.
Godfrey Massey of Landesa Tanzania said the existence of laws in itself does not necessarily translate into better access to land for women.
“Women can own land just as men, but few women are aware of this in Tanzania,” he said, calling for more initiatives at the community level to raise awareness of land rights.
“We’ve seen trainings lead to a rise in women joining village land councils or realizing that their husband can’t mortgage the family land without their consent,” he said.
Rajan Samuel of Habitat for Humanity India said that efforts to improve land rights must acknowledge cultural norms like India’s centuries-old Hindu caste system.
“You can have all the policies in the world, if you don’t engage the community from day one you won’t succeed,” he said.