Women’s Participation in Public and Political Life in Douar Hicher

1 March 2018 | Report | English


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General Introduction to the Diagnosis

This diagnosis was carried out by the Association le Chemin de la Dignité – Tarik Al Karama (ACD) in order to collect data on the situation of women’s participation in the Douar Hicher area in the governorate of Manouba. The aim was to identify the main economic, social and political obstacles to the participation of women in public life in the region. 

Purpose of the Diagnosis

This diagnosis can be classed as research action because, firstly, it is concerned with analysing the level and quality of participation by the women of Douar Hicher in public, civil and political life. Secondly, it is concerned with identifying the main general structural, contextual and local causes acting as obstacles to such participation and classifying them as economic, social, cultural and political variables with the aim of achieving civil intervention to expand women’s participation in this sphere. In the long term, ACD intends to integrate women into public life through support funding and the skills necessary to free them from exclusion. 

This field research action produced specific, local data making it possible to support the conceptual frameworks with a democratic, participatory approach[1] needed to overcome the crisis of representative democracy, particularly during the democratic transition. 

The research action also contributed to involving the social agents, particularly the women subjects of the study, in changing the way they participate on the ground by providing them with appropriate resources in terms of personal skills and by creating favourable economic and social conditions.

Subject of the Diagnosis

Working-class districts, with their economic, social and political characteristics, are the urban environments where discrimination against women and their exclusion from recognised responsibilities in public and political life is the greatest. This is despite the physical and intellectual efforts they make in balancing work and domestic responsibilities, doing unpaid work, providing educational support and managing domestic affairs, improving family income, paying travel costs and accepting spending only minimal amounts on personal concerns like clothes and leisure. 

Based on this, plus the fact that domestic income is also falling because of job insecurity among the unspecialised workforce and informal work, plus the feminisation of poverty and increasing unemployment[2], women are limited to meeting their own basic, everyday needs, excluding themselves from public, civil and political affairs. For this reason, the subject cannot be dealt with theoretically without considering the nature of the complex relationship between participation in public life and participation in political life.

Target Geographical Area

Administratively, the Douar Hicher district is part of the governorate of Manouba, one of the four governorates making up the district of Greater Tunis and consisting of nine districts. The district of Douar Hicher is the smallest (9,099 km²), with the greatest population density (84,090 people – an average of 9,241 people per km²). 

The district has the highest population growth rate at 2.56% a year, compared to 1.7% in the governorate of Manouba and 1.1% nationally, due to rural exodus population movements. Between 2009 and 2014, net internal migration has been estimated at 3,855, accounting for 44.9% of the total of 8,577 net exodus movements in the whole governorate. The illiteracy rate stands at 17.8% and the unemployment rate is 19%, compared to 17% nationally. 

The Douar Hicher district has ten primary schools, five preparatory schools, two secondary schools and two basic healthcare centres.

The illiteracy rate among the women of Douar Hicher is 25.18%, compared to 14.29% among men. The rate of women with primary education suffering from functional illiteracy is 29.61%, compared to 34.88% among men, a rate close to the average rates recorded for both sexes at regional and national level. The women’s unemployment rate is 26.49% (the equivalent of 2,781 unemployed women), exceeding regional and national rates, compared to 15.69% for men.

Table 1. Division of population by gender in the governorate of Manouba in 2014

 Number of householdsMaleFemaleTotal
Douar Hicher 20,77342,70641,38484,090
Oued Ellil17,95535,06634,25169,317
Borj El Amri4,1548,8188,59017,408
El Battan4,5679,6289,34918,977
Total governorate95,405191,860187,658379,518

The Methodology Used

The methodology used has taken into consideration the nature of the subject and the particular features of the society subject to study in the Douar Hicher area. It uses the descriptive and experimental method,[3] listening to the actors involved (men and women) from the study area and based on field observations, previous studies and monitoring reports relating to women’s civil and political participation in the period of transition to democracy and the political changes occurring since 14 January 2011. At the second stage it involves carrying out a field survey on cases chosen as representative of the main civil and political components – male and female actors with their personal experiences of local, regional and national participation. The data collected was then classified in accordance with a qualitative approach to see the extent of the phenomenon, its characteristics, its effects on the representation of the agents subject to the study in the field and its socio-political impacts using interviews with individuals and small groups.

Specification of the Concepts and Terms Used

Women’s participation

Participation generally refers to expanding the circle of citizens involved in competing to directly manage public affairs by securing national or local decision-making, legislative or executive posts. This management can also be exercised indirectly by influencing power structures, programmes and orientations that respond to the general interests of citizens. With the appearance since the end of the 20th century of social movements as new agents on the political scene with unpredictable results, it has become possible to distinguish two forms of public participation. Firstly, conventional participation means involvement in elections and candidature or civil pressure groups of associations and professional and trade union organisations. On the other hand, participation through protest involves non-institutional means such as demonstrations, sit-ins and other forms of protest4.  At the beginning of the 21st century, these forms of unconventional participation played a fundamental and essential role in triggering the Arab risings and the fall of some authoritarian systems in the region. 

  • Public life

Public life represents a space that can contain all activities and public practices carried out individually or collectively outside the private family space by citizens with equal rights and obligations. This refers to the concept of collective public space including all economic, social, civil and political areas and fields in the context of the social division of paid work or voluntary civil and political actions. It covers all activities linked to meeting needs and dealing with administrative affairs following the principles and criteria set by society and in the context of the applicable laws5.

However, the term public life involves social participation inside the collective space involving interactions and exchanges of gains and values through communication between “citizens equal in political rights and civil obligations and free of all cultural and political social constraints”6, which can be obstacles to their equal participation within this collective space. This requires legislative, political and social guarantees for the exercise of their rights using the principle of rational argument between the actors involved to eliminate prejudices associated with race, colour, beliefs and gender. 

Based on this, there is a need to refresh everyone’s participatory skills by allowing people to acquire the competences they require depending on their needs. The inherited system of ethics still involves many discriminatory values with respect to several groups and regions, including some linked to gender discrimination without reasonable justification, which are the most widespread and most restrictive in terms of equal participation.

  • The political/civil field

The social space is divided into several specialist fields involved in the production of specific goods, services and social needs with exchange value, as anything produced without a market has no value7. These structures form a framework for social action, restructuring social acts and guiding the behaviour of the agents. Bourdieu considers that “the different social fields are determined by general and common laws and by specific laws governing the situation in each field”8. Despite the gap between the specific features of social fields: “Universal laws cover all fields, whatever the areas or the society.” 9

Context: The Situation of Women’s Participation in Public and Political Life in Douar Hicher

Official statistics10 have shown that, in terms of paid work for women outside the family and unstructured work, the situation of women’s participation in public life in Douar Hicher is close to the national rate. In fact, the number of women employees is estimated at 7,719 out of a total of 32,010 aged over 15 (24.11%), according to the 2014 census. Women are divided between various sectors and the highest rates are: 41.59% in manufacturing industry because of the existence of an industrial zone; 27.26% in the education, health and administrative sectors; and 20.07% in other service sectors, mostly in the informal sector, with a rate in the study area of 20.1% for women compared to 11.4% for men. In these other sectors, wages are below the guaranteed minimum wage, with a lack of social cover for the costs of care, insurance and retirement, and aspects of feminisation including economic vulnerability and job insecurity11

However, this participation in productive society and wealth creation by more than half the women in the area does not correlate with women’s participation in civil and political life as demonstrated by most of the interviews. 

This participation is almost entirely limited to involvement in civil society and politics when certain women come from outside the area in exceptional circumstances or for elections, as “the people here – men and women – are only concerned about finding ways of earning money. Working women cannot find the time required for political or civil activity; the women at home who do not have jobs outside are not interested in important public issues or, if they are, it is simply in terms of campaigns or demonstrations”.

This testimony from one of the women interviewed – an active politician – seems to reflect the common-sense thinking prevalent in this working-class area with regard to the exercise of citizenship dominated by a wait-and-see attitude and participation in demonstrations. These characteristics developed after the fall of the old regime and took particular forms in certain inland regions and in the working-class districts of Greater Tunis, where people are more aware of their civil rights. 

The Douar Hicher area represents one of these more expressive models of women’s social movements demanding to improve living conditions through jobs for young unemployed people, access to housing, social benefits and free State services. Describing this form of collective action, a worker with Douar Hicher council (Cité Echabab) said: “Until recently, the ranks of women outside the municipal council demanding improved living conditions, jobs for their children or financial aid continued to swell. We have always had difficulty in convincing them that these demands are nothing to do with the municipal council.” 

This shows that the political culture in these districts does not distinguish between the powers of public bodies and institutions and the functions of local groups. In fact, poverty and the need to acquire skills and join the job market play a role in the composition of political representation limited to the exercise of “participation through demands”12 which is widespread in the most deprived and marginalised local areas. This kind of demand had already expanded and diversified due to the establishment of freedom of expression and demonstration following the tradition of dissent established by the rising of 14 January 2011, which culminated in the overthrow of the authoritarian system. 

As a result, “conventional” participation remains marginalised and selective, notably in the inland regions and working-class districts, as in the Douar Hicher area. This kind of participation does not inspire trust with regard to the possibilities of change, notably for the citizens worst affected by the absence of social and political justice in terms of the division of wealth and political and civil power between groups and regions: “In the district, women are practically detached from civil society, and, if they are involved, it is because of a direct interest, seeking rapid gains in the form of benefits depending on their needs.”

This is aggravated by social, economic and political disparities which are both horizontal and vertical, such as the concentration of poverty among women and young people in a job market which remains discriminatory and provides women with only half the jobs it offers men. 

Despite the exclusion of women from the running of local affairs and from decision-making within the Douar Hicher region, and the absence of objective conditions for participation in civil and local life, the interviews have indicated that some women are involved in civil and political participation outside the region through civil society associations or certain political parties. “They do this discreetly and without taking the initiative through local activity except in the context of groups coming from outside (demonstrations or electoral campaigns), as the dominant mentality here rejects activities of this kind when they are carried out by women or girls from the region, which can expose them to acts of harassment by young local men, family pressure and sometimes even verbal violence.” 

When these women escape the areas where they live to participate at national or regional level, they can easily travel to the capital. Protected by anonymity, they avoid the pressure and constraints of the male mentality and relationships of dominance widespread in working-class areas which deny women access to the spheres of power and a presence in civil spaces, failing to recognise their usefulness in achieving changes to social living conditions. 

The same interviewee – a civil society activist – said: “Because of my experience, I prefer doing what I do outside the district because the environment here in Douar Hicher does not tolerate women going beyond their domestic responsibilities and professional obligations. It is no good upsetting your husband in the district, despite the need for work in associations here.” 

This forms one of the local obstacles to free participation even though women are motivated and aware of local needs for civil intervention to promote awareness-raising, training and conventional participation13with medium- and long-term results.

The examination of the results of women’s participation in the 2014 presidential elections during the two sessions at Douar Hicher showed that women exceeded the male participation rate, with 57.4% compared to 42.6%. This was due to the threat to overturn the women’s and civil rights gained and the proliferation of the Salafi phenomenon, with its terrorist consequences, during the government of the Troika. In the legislative elections the same year, women voted at a rate close to the national figure and almost equal to men:

Table 2. Participation rate in the 2014 elections by gender

Imadat (= sector)Polling stationWomen (%)Men (%)
Douar HicherEl Ghazali primary school47.5%52.5%
Douar Hicher 1Chaker primary school 147.7%52.3%
Douar Hicher 2Chaker primary school 253.2%46.8%
Khaled Ibn El OilidEl Maarifa primary school 148.6%51.4%
Khaled Ibn El Oilid 1Ettakadem primary school 146.8%53.2%
Khaled Ibn El Oilid 2El Maarifa primary school 253.1%46.9%
Cité ErriadhErriadh primary school 1 49.5%50.5%
Cité Erriadh 1Erriadh primary school 256.6%43.4%
Cité Erriadh 2Ettakadem primary school 249.8%50.2%
Cité EchababCité Echabab primary school45.8%54.2%
TotalDouar Hicher District49.68%50.32%

Source: Independent higher electoral authority, general statistics (2014)

In contrast with this kind of active participation as voters, participation as candidates remains limited. The results obtained are due to the establishment of the principle of vertical parity. With the adoption of horizontal and vertical parity for the municipal elections (in 2016), Tunisian women will have more opportunities in the next municipal and regional elections. 

Obstacles to Women’s Participation in Public and Political Life in Douar Hicher

Severity of the Obstacles to Women’s Participation 

A comparison of the general factors influencing the extent of women’s participation and the types and areas of this participation in the Tunisian context with the participatory practices of women in the study area, shows that these factors have specific features linked to local society in terms of the economy, the way of life, the division of social roles among the sexes, lack of access to interactive public spaces, communication and leisure. Other elements are also involved: paid work, work in the informal sector, support for schoolchildren, and the absence and insufficiency of the involvement of public structures and organisations supporting women. 

Table 3. The main governmental and non-governmental organisations working to support women in Douar Hicher

Commissariat régional des affaires de la femme et de la famille (Regional Office of Women’s and Family Affairs) in ManoubaImplementing and executing State policies concerning women, the family and children.
Office national de la famille et de la population (National Family and Population Office) – Health and family planning centre in Douar Hicher Promotion and support for the situation of women, their health and protection against violence against women
Enda Inter-Arabe – Douar Hicher AgencyEconomic and social support for women
Association de la promotion de l’éducation citoyenne (Association for the Promotion of Citizen Education) – Douar Hicher Youth CentrePreservation of gains achieved by women, strengthening their rights, demands for gender equality, raising collective awareness of the risks of inequality among people through the presentation of documentary films focusing on “women and cultural heritage” and discussion of them in public
Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (Tunisian General Workers’ Union)-National committee for working women, Manouba regional unionDrawing up scenarios and plans allowing the organisation to find out more about the condition of working women and seeking appropriate solutions 
Women’s Centre for Social Guidance and Training – Union nationale de la femme tunisienne (National Tunisian Women’s Union), Manouba officeSocial and cultural support and empowerment of women
Centre for Social Protection and Integration in Douar HicherPromotion of women and their children and trying to overcome the obstacles they face and to integrate them into social, cultural and political life
Association le Chemin de la Dignité“Women of Douar Hicher: Tunisian citizens” projectProject on parity in local councils and leading women activists in Douar HicherLegal and psychological training for women in Douar HicherCitizen action by women and young people for better prevention against radicalisation 
IRTIKA association for active participation by womenOrganising training for the benefit of agents in the governorate of Manouba (Oued Ellil)
Association de la femme pour le développement durable (Women’s Association for Sustainable Development)Integrating women into development programmes, particularly in deprived areas.

Direct Family and Social Factors

Family and social factors have not been influential in the same way in all situations identified in the field study. Their influence varies depending on the individual educational experience of the interviewees and their political and civil motivation, as has been mentioned in the section on obstacles and constraints. Family and social factors are divided between concern for domestic tasks, supporting children at school14, lack of time (both for employees in the formal and informal sectors and non-employees[4]15), and resistance from husbands and local society:

  • The low level of education among most women in Douar Hicher, who suffer from illiteracy in all its traditional forms, is estimated at 20%, compared to 14% for men, according to the 2014 population census. This is the most decisive factor excluding women from simple interest in public affairs, not to mention active participation in public and political life.
  • Family responsibilities, when they are not shared between men and women,16 are an obstacle to women taking an interest and participating in public affairs: “Here, everyone knows that the man works outside the home and the woman takes care of the rest, even if she works like he does, so she doesn’t find time.” By contrast, other testimony considers that the cost in effort and time “must not deprive women of their right to take an interest and participate in public life and to demand more equality, despite the mediocre results of the elections, for example”. 
  • Resistance by husbands under the effect of what some interviewees called “the dominant mentalities in the district which do not recognise women’s political activity and embarrass my husband in the eyes of the neighbours”. For another interviewee, this difficulty can be overcome from the outset, as women must be clear and uncompromising about their principal rights inside and outside the family from the time when they choose their husbands. 
  • The difficulty in reconciling work and family responsibilities for some, with the feeling of guilt over childcare: “I feel as if I am failing with regard to my children and I prefer to look after them and see to their needs instead of being active in the associations. As for political parties, my husband and I are against it.” This is a position not accepted by the previous interviewee, who maintains that balancing domestic commitments and participation in civil activities is “possible, if you are determined and aware of the extent of discrimination against women in our society… This affects children’s education on the principle of equality, when they notice their parents’ interest in public affairs”.

Political Factors

The field observations showed another specific feature linked to political factors more consistent among the interviewees in the area under study:

  • The social importance of the patriarchal political sphere reserved for power relationships, with strong discriminatory exclusion of women,17imposes the control and supervision of the patriarchal society and excludes women from applying for decision-making posts involved with public affairs: “Conservative mentalities do not accept women’s participation in political activities requiring many social relationships and going to meetings outside working hours.” This exclusion also applies in the field of civil participation, as most dominant views consider civil and association activities as a waste of time, claiming it is pointless spending time and effort to the detriment of other more directly profitable activities to improve the family income or look after children.
  • The absence of political parties in working-class districts generally limited to the recruitment and training of the men most active in drawing up dominant policies: “The political parties hardly exist in the districts. Trade union and political meetings in coffee shops do not allow the presence of women.” Participation in elections is the exception to this rule, and some partisan women can be mobilised for this purpose for a limited time.
  • Weak, mediocre political training for women, who should under normal circumstances be provided with a political and civil culture, communication skills and logistical support. This is despite the very limited initiatives of some associations to produce women “prepared to take part in political and civil life, as they lack support in terms of experience, resources and information even inside political parties”. Political parties do not give women special representation on their governing bodies and most of them do not include in their programmes plans to encourage women and provide favourable conditions for them to develop their experience, leadership and decision-making in the form of education, training and empowerment.

The Factors Affecting Violence Against Women

Violence against women is considered to be a public health problem threatening public and private freedoms because of its attack on human dignity and the fundamental rights of human beings. Such violence has become a real social phenomenon. In fact, the first study carried out by the National Family and Population Office in 2010 showed that 47.6% of a sample of 5,600 women stated that they had suffered violence and 32.9% said they had suffered at least one form of violence in the year of the study. 21.2% were victims of violence in public and in the workplace. These are high rates which contribute to preventing women from participating in public, civil and political life and lead to them avoiding activity in public spaces18.

This phenomenon has grown dangerously since 2011 in the political and civil areas most characterised by conflict and competition, where there are often various forms of verbal, physical and moral violence. Women are most often targeted because of their social vulnerability and the fact that they are vehicles for male honour in patriarchal societies: “We, the women, are always exposed to violence and notably political violence by our opponents or even by non-politicised people every time we try to exercise our right to political activity, considered by the aggressors as the realm of men. This is a general phenomenon to be fought against.”

This type of political violence worsens women’s exclusion from voluntary activity in political and civil life, particularly when it is associated with discriminatory violence against women because of their gender with verbal violence in the form of comments and insults. An active woman and politician who has been a victim of violence at elections gives some examples: “Stay at home and look after your children” or “If the men haven’t been able to do it what chance have the whores got?” or even “The moral decadence created by Bourguiba and so-called equality must be abolished”. 

The phenomenon of violence against women has become almost structural in working-class districts but is felt to be more dangerous in middle class and better-off areas and in rural areas, which are more used to theft and burglary. Concerning the role of violence in excluding women from public life, one of the interviewees stated: “It’s understandable. Women in working-class districts like Douar Hicher are exposed to violence on the streets all the time. They avoid unnecessarily appearing unaccompanied in certain dangerous districts, but night-time is worst.” She said that such events continue, increasing women’s perception of the likelihood of risks. Some specific contextual features of political violence, widespread in certain districts of the capital between 2011 and 2014 should be added, similar to the Salafist violence against women in Douar Hicher: “We went through days of real terror of the risk of Salafist violence, which was widespread in the district right in front of the police. We were even scared of going to work, let alone political activity.”

It is clear that, under these conditions, women are the most common targets because of common social attitudes that weaken them and terrorise them as they are considered to be objects and subjects of oppression, notably in this region known for its social contrasts and for booming crime and violence. This increases their perception of the risk level and prevents them participating in public and political life. 

Economic Factors

These form the set of factors involving living standards, family income, the inclusion of women in active life and in the job market in the formal and informal sectors[5], as well as women’s unemployment rates estimated at 26.49% compared to 15.69% for men, factors linked to discrimination in the job opportunities available to the two genders and their income levels. According to the study carried out, these factors are as important as the other factors because of the fragility of the economy and the feminisation of poverty in the diagnosis area. “The conditions for women in working-class areas are marked by poverty and unemployment despite their efforts to find additional income through housework, the sale of second-hand clothes and foot products or traditional bread…” or also in childminding or beauty services and other occasional and informal work. 

Meanwhile, statistics show that the total number of women of employable age – 15 and above – is not translated into women’s participation in economic activity because 50.2% of the population of working age represents only 24.6% of the total women workers.

Despite the rise in the rate of women of working age with jobs or the fall in the rate of those looking for work, women remain the most exposed to unemployment with a rate of 22.1% compared to 12.4% for men. The unemployment rate among women graduates is 41.1% compared to 21.4% for men holding the same qualifications. 

Participation and Empowerment

There is a structural and functional relationship between the two concepts of empowerment and participation, which means one cannot be used without the other. There is no participation without empowerment mechanisms allowing women to acquire the knowledge and values they need to change the situation of discrimination and exclusion from public and political life. And there is no empowerment without the adoption of active participation as the instrument necessary to achieve the direct procedural aims concerning the integration of women into public life19. As a result, women’s participation takes the form of providing them with favourable conditions allowing them to exercise their right to participate in political and public life. Empowerment is therefore a condition of equal gender participation and development does not simply consist of social support for women. However, social development occurs in proportion to the way women can be provided with personal capacities (strong personality, leadership, etc.) empowering them to continuously improve their living conditions and their financial situation and to participate in making decisions affecting all aspects of their lives20, based on the development of equal social relationships and the strengthening of relationships between genders, without any kind of discrimination, exclusion or oppression.

Failure to accept women in terms of performance and effectiveness is not only linked to prejudice against women, but is also associated with the political assessment of their professional performance in decision-making, legislative and executive positions associated with political education and training. This has an impact on the quality of the performance of women chosen for some positions by election or appointment: “The difficulties for women’s participation start in childhood (family and environment) concerning interest in public and political affairs,” said a political activist. This concerns gender inequality in terms of start-up capital affecting the acquisition of experience in a field considered to be male and the division of posts between the old dominant and dominated groups, and in conditions inherited from parents associated with access and positioning.

These are all factors of symbolic violence determining the type of capital that allows certain fortunate women to position themselves on the political scene (because they have communication experience and they have mastered social and political networking and relationships). This will have an impact on their performance in decision-making spheres: “Several women are chosen to fill a vacancy on the spur of the moment or because of their loyalties, but they lack political experience and give a negative image of female competence. This is a form of injustice against women.” This adds new arguments for them to be excluded from public life and, more particularly, from the political sphere. 

Because of qualitative discrimination against women, those who occupy positions of responsibility are generally more exposed to pressure than men and deprived of the right to make mistakes or to learn by doing. As a result, the feeling of “fear of taking responsibility” or guilt of not being able to respond to norms and expectations are among the obstacles they face in improving their experience and developing skills and self-esteem. Judgement by the public and the media, and even by their own party and voters, is generally harsher and more discriminatory against women who are active in the political/civil sphere, whether this is deliberate or not, and double standards are applied.

To insufficient capabilities and skills is added the weakness of their social capital compared to the networks of relationships available to men. “In my experience, women’s relationships are limited. When they become candidates, women do not find the total support they need, either from their colleagues at work or from their neighbours or the residents of the area or their extended family. People do not take their candidature seriously.”Another interviewee considers that, by contrast, in her experience men are lucky in the public sphere because of “support and finance and the fact that they are not embarrassed to ask for help and support, while women quickly become the target for moral suspicions and rumours even when they manage to win trust and support”. This adds a new form of discrimination in which a woman participating in public life is victim of an ethical trial by public opinion and accusations associated with her gender identity every time she tries to seek the factors for achieving a formal presence within institutions or on electoral lists beyond traditional political roles. 

Summary and Recommendations

Without attempting to fully represent all women’s experiences and positions associated with the reality of their participation in public and political life, the results of this study appear to give a fair picture of the experience of some agents in civil society and politics through the analysis of their experiences. Emphasis is placed on the principal specific local features when women participate in accordance with the conditions and situation in the area under study. 

Considering the initial hypotheses, the data collected confirms that the economic, social and political factors of the area under study are a considerable obstacle to the participation of women in public and political life compared to other urban zones of the capital. The results have shown the extent of the impact of the living standards of the most underprivileged class of women, who are concerned with survival, and whose participation is limited to asking for help to improve their income and housing and to ensure they can pay the costs of healthcare and sending their children to school. Their decision to participate therefore depends on a cost/benefit calculation. 

Moreover, social obstacles to participation appear in the form of family and educational commitments and inequality in the division of roles in a system where there are two contrasting spaces: a private, internal space for women and an external, public space where participation in public affairs is monopolised by men. The only possible participation is through paid work or parallel, informal activities considering a discriminatory political education system which, along with political factors, excludes women from the spheres of power and public affairs. 

In effect, it has been established that the structural obstacles to the extension of participation in public life in general, and women’s participation in particular, include the following factors: frustration and despair at the difficulty in improving living conditions by political and civil means; the absence of parties in power or opposition known to have continuing awareness-raising, education and training activities; the fact that these parties have been forced to leave working-class districts under pressure from the most deprived sectors; the drop in civil and voluntary work; and the accumulation of a clientelist political culture sharing out benefits in exchange for political loyalty.

In 1995, the Beijing declaration adopted two strategic goals concerning women and decision-making:21

  • Take measures to ensure women’s equal access to and full participation in power structures and decision-making 
  • Increase women’s capacity to participate in decision-making and leadership through providing civil, legislative and political instruments making it possible to ensure women have all the knowledge and skills they need to take responsibilities.

The first goal hast not been achieved in Tunisia since 2011, either in terms of adapting various legal texts to the principle of full equality of rights and obligations and concerning the only partial respect for the principle of parity of representation on official bodies (limited to vertical parity and removing proportional representation). The second goal also remains out of reach of the official executive authorities, notably concerning the official executive authorities. There are only certain limited initiatives by women’s and human rights associations which are not followed up.

Concerning the involvement of civil society, the results obtained from this study could lead to the drawing up of an action plan offering women interested in participating in public and political life two categories of empowerment which will be useful to them at the next elections, in accordance with the needs identified: 

  1. Training in the areas of political culture, women’s (economic, social and political) rights, full equality, active partnership, personal empowerment through knowledge, skills and capacities linked to leadership and decision-making, political communication and legal and political training in local democracy (representative democracy and participatory democracy). This would be in the context of the next municipal elections in 2018, which could be favourable to the implementation of an action plan to encourage women’s participation.
  2. Support for women candidates on electoral lists at all stages of the election process, through logistical support, making travel easier, direct contacts, virtual communication and learning how to behave with the media. All this makes it possible to assure women of an active political presence going beyond decorative roles or merely filling gaps as required for the vertical and horizontal parity established in the electoral law relating to the next municipal elections. 

Intervention is also required in the family surroundings of women candidates to create motivation, particularly for the benefit of the family as a whole and for children, to support interested women and help them seek electoral experience by reducing the pressure of domestic and budget/time management tasks and getting them the necessary moral support. These basic elements constitute the basis for an action plan making it possible to support women on certain electoral lists through empowerment and following it up to develop female participation along the lines indicated by the results of this diagnosis. In the long term, this will remove the many obstacles to women, in particular those from the most deprived backgrounds with the lowest levels of education. 


References in Arabic 

BEN ABDALLAH, Sanim. Participation de la femme dans la gouvernance locale en Tunisie (Women’s participation in local government in Tunisia). Tunisia: Center of Arab Women for Training and Research – CAWTAR, 2006.

CHEKIR, Hafidha, CHAFIK SARSAR, Mohamed. Les femmes et la participation politique: expérience des partis politiques et syndicats et les associations professionnelles (Women and political participation: experiences of political parties, trade unions and professional associations). Tunisia, Arab Institute for Human Rights, 2014.

CHERIF, Khadija. Situation des femmes en Tunisie. La situation juridique et sociale. (Situation of women in Tunisia. The legal and social situation), Tunisia, Arab Institute for Human Rights, 1998. 

GRIBAA, Boutheina. Lecture dans la situation actuelle de la participation de la femme dans la vie politique en Algérie, Maroc et Tunisie. (Reading the current situation of women’s participation in political life in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia), Tunisia, CAWTAR, 2009.

INDEPENDENT HIGHER ELECTORAL AUTHORITY. Final report on the legislative elections 2014 (statistical data), Tunisia 2015.

KHOUAJA Ahmed, HIZEM Fethia. La participation politique des femmes à Monastir et Sousse, Association Voix de la Femme à Jemmel (The political participation of women in Monastir and Sousse, Women’s Voice Association, Jemmel), European Institute of the Mediterranean/Euro-Mediterranean Women’s Foundation, 2016.

NAJJAR, Sihème. “Renforcement du rôle des partis politiques et les syndicats dans la promotion de la participation politique et publique des femmes”, (Reinforcement of the role of political parties and trade unions in promoting political and public participation by women), European Union in partnership with the OXFAM Novip website, 2014, http://www.rdflwomen.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03 (site visited on 30/03/2017).

NEBLI, Rabeh, BEN JANNETE, Zouhaier. La politique et le comportement électoral des femmes de Jemmel (The politics and electoral behaviour of the women of Jemmel), Tunisia, Association Voix de la femme-Jemmel (Women’s Voice Association-Jemmel) and CAWTAR, 2012. 

Final report of the Arab preparatory symposium for the Beijing Conference, Legal and social status, Tunisia: Arab Institute for Human Rights, 1996.

TLILI, Jalel. “Phénomène de la garderie des enfants les moins de 3 ans: les solutions et attentes familiales, étude terrain” (Phenomenon of the care of children aged under 3: solutions and family expectations, field study), Cahiers de l’enfance tunisienne, N°15-16, National Institute of Child Management, November 2006.

TRABELSI Karim, Femme tunisienne travaillant dans le secteur (économie) informel, la réalité et les solutions possibles d’un point de vue synodical (Working Tunisian women in the informal economy: reality and possible solutions from a trade union point of view), Tunis, Women and young workers and associations’ section of the Tunisian General Workers Union (UGTT), 2014, pp. 34-35. 

References in French and English

ARAB MEDIA OBSERVATION GROUP ; COALITION FOR TUNISIAN WOMEN; NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR LIBERTIES IN TUNISIA; “Image des femmes dans les médias tunisiens, Projet d’observation des questions de genre dans les médias tunisiens” (Image of women in the Tunisian media, observation project of gender issues in the Tunisian media), Final report, January/March 2013. 

BEN ACHOUR, Sana. “Féminisme d’État : figure ou défiguration du féminisme?” (State feminism: figure or disfigurement of feminism), in Mélanges Mohammed Charfi, Tunis: University Publication Centre, 2001 

BOURDIEU, Pierre. Propos sur le champ politique (About the Political Field), Lyon: Editions PUL, 2000. 

BOURDIEU, Pierre. Questions de sociologie. (Questions of sociology) Tunis: Cérès Editions, “Idéa” Collection, 1993, (Original edition, Minuit, Paris, 1984), p 113. 

CATROUX, Michèle. “Introduction à la recherche-action: modalités d’une démarche théorique centrée sur la pratique”, (Introduction to research-action: forms of practice-based theoretical approach), Recherche et pratiques pédagogiques en langues de spécialité (Teaching research and practice in specialist languages), [Online], Vol. XXI N° 3 | 2002, placed online on 16 March 2014, URL: http://apliut.revues.org/4276

DUFORT, F., LAVOIE, F., TOUSSAINT-LACHANCE, M., CÔTÉ, M.., 65th ACFAS congress, Session: Empowerment and social practice: beyond slogans and good intentions http://www.acfas.ca/congres/congres65/C3918.htm

GIBSON, Chéryl. “A concept analysis of empowerment”, in Journal of Advanced Nursing, n°16, 1991, pp 354-361. 

JACQUET, Isabelle. Développement au masculin, féminin – le genre, outils d’un nouveau concept (Development in masculine and feminine – gender, tools for a new concept), Paris: L’Harmattan, 1995. 

JASPARD, Maryse. Les violences contre les femmes (Violence against women) Paris: Éditions La Découverte, 2005.

LAMLOUM, Olfa, BEN ZINA, Mohamed-Ali. (ed.). Les jeunes de Douar Hicher et d’Ettadhamen: Une enquête sociologique (Young people of Douar Hicher and Ettadhamen: a sociological survey) Tunis: Arabesque, 2015. 

MAHFOUDH DRAOUI, Dorra. “Traditionalisme et modernisme conjugal dans la famille tunisienne” (Conjugal traditionalism and modernism in Tunisian families) in Structures familiales et rôles sociaux, (Family structures and social roles) Tunis: Cérès Editions, 1995. 

“L’autonomisation/empowerment – participation, solidarité et développement” (Empowerment – participation, solidarity and development), http://www.eicos.psycho.ufrj.br/frances/fr_empoderamento/frempoderamento.htm

Various authors, Stratégies en vue du pouvoir: moyens et méthodes par lesquels les femmes peuvent participer à la l’élaboration des politiques(Strategies for power: means and methods for women to take part in drawing up policy), Ottawa: UNESCO, 2004. 


[1] CATROUX, M. “Introduction à la recherche-action: modalités d’une démarche théorique centrée sur la pratique”, Recherche et pratiques pédagogiques en langues de spécialité, (“Introduction to Research-Field Work: Modalities of a Theoretical Approach Centered on the Field”, Research and Teaching Practices in Languages of Specialty) [Online], Vol. XXI N° 3 | 2002, placed online 16 March 2014, URL: http://apliut.revues.org/4276

[2] UN WOMEN. United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, Rapport national genre Tunisie (National Gender Report Tunisia), Tunis, 2015.

[3] ZGHAL, R. Méthodologie de recherches en sciences sociales (Methodology of Social Science Research). Tunis: Éditions C.L.E., 1992, p.18.

[4] DORMAGEN, J-Y, MOUCHARD, D. Introduction à la sociologie politique (Introduction to Political Sociology). Brussels: Éditions Le Boeck Collection, Collection “Supérieur”, Chap. 12, pp 211-212-213. 2010.

[5] GEORGES G, BRAND P. La vie politique (Political Life). Paris: PUF, 1990, p 52.

[6] LIPOVETSKY, G. “Espace privé, espace public à l’âge postmoderne”, in Citoyenneté et urbanité, (“Private and Public Space at the Postmodern Age“, in Citizenship and Urbanship) ed. Esprit, 1991. 

[7] BOURDIEU, P. Questions de sociologie (Questions of Sociology). Tunis: Cérès Editions, “Idéa” Collection, 1993, (Original edition, Minuit, Paris, 1984), p 113.

[8] Op. cit. p.125.

[9] Op. cit. pp.113-114


[11] TRABELSI, K. Femme tunisienne travaillant dans le secteur (économie) informel, la réalité et les solutions possibles d’un point de vue syndical. Tunis, Publications section femme et jeunes travailleurs et associations (Working Tunisian women in the informal economy: reality and possible solutions from a trade union point of view, Tunis, Women and young workers and associations’ section of the Tunisian General Workers Union), UGTT, 2014 pp. 34-35.  

[12] LIPOVETSKY G, “Espace privé, espace public à l’âge postmoderne”, Op. cit.

[13] MAYER, N. Sociologie des comportements politiques (Sociology of Political Behaviours), Paris: Armand Colin, 2010.

[14] TLILI, J. Phénomène de la garderie d’enfants de moins de 3 ans: solutions disponibles (opportunités) et les attentes familiales, étude terrain (Phenomenon on the Care of Children Aged Under 3 : Solutions and Family Expectations, Field study), Cahiers de L’Enfance Tunisienne N° 15-16, Institut supérieur des cadres de l’enfance, November 2006. 

[15] BOUKRAA, R. Étude de répartition du temps de la femme dans le milieu urbain (Study on the Distribution of Women’s Time in Urban Areas), Tunisia: published by CREDIF 2003.

[16] The national study on Tunisians’ time management in the home shows that the difference in time spent on domestic matters between partners is as high as eight-fold. Wives devote more than five hours to domestic tasks every day compared to 37 minutes spent by their husbands. On this subject, see: MAHFOUDH D; ZAAFRANE H; KHOUAJA A, L’enquête nationale budget temps des Tunisiennes et des Tunisiens (The National Budget Time Survey of Tunisian Men and Women), Tunis: MAFFEPA, INS, UNIFAM, 2011.

[17] Various authors, Performance parlementaire des femmes arabes, études de cas sur l’Égypte, la Syrie et la Tunisie, Beyrouth: Centre d’études de l’unité arabe (Parliamentary performance of Arab women, case studies on Egypt, Syria and Tunisia, Beirut, Arab Unity Studies Center), 2005.

[18] MARISE J. Les violences contre les femmes (Violence against Women), Paris: Editions La Découverte, 2005.

[19] Women’s involvement exceeds the regional rate for the governorate of Manouba.

[20] JACQUET I. Développement au masculin, féminin – le genre, outils d’un nouveau concept (Development in Masculine and Feminine – Gender, Tools for a New Concept), Paris: L’Harmattan, 1995.

[21] Final report of the Arab preparatory symposium for the Beijing Conference, Legal and social status, Tunisia: Publications of the Arab Institute of Human Rights, 1996.

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