It is a consciousness of inspiration and indignation, of passion and dissent…
Seven years have passed since the first protests of Tunisia’s ‘Arab Spring.’ The defiant red of the Tunisian flag flies no more and the burning tires and gas canisters no longer perfuse the city in an impenetrable blanket of smoke. Rather, the absence of the ousted dictator Ben Ali beckons of Tunisia’s revolutionary success. Indeed, it is this consciousness of a revolution which remains now. It is a consciousness of inspiration and indignation, of passion and dissent, a paradoxical mix which is at the very heart of a healthy democracy. It is, again, this yearning for equality and for fundamental rights, which now fuels once more the citizens of Tunisia in the momentous trajectory of women’s rights.
At the very heart of this revolution are the female entrepreneurs, radically changing the scenery of women’s rights from within. For Najoua Dhiflaoui, the defiant red of the revolution has transformed into the vermillion of the chili peppers, which are sun-dried and preserved into a vibrant harissa. It is this harissa in its zest and unapologetic spice which has come to embody the cooperative of women crafting it.
Signified by her company’s very name, Tahadi, meaning ‘challenge’ in Arabic, Dhifaloui has confronted the very obstacles of gender discrimination and a hegemonic male workforce. Since 2013, she has commandeered a female-only farmers’ cooperative as one of the first Tunisian companies to work exclusively with rural women. This initiative has enabled women to access the training and skills in the technical, health and commercial fields, which they have channeled into their brand of harissa, Errim, meaning small gazelle, a symbol of feminine beauty. The symbiotic amalgamation of the gazelle, juxtaposed with the fieriness of the harissa thus becomes Dhifaloui’s powerful message: the inherent beauty and boldness of women as an undeniable source of power.
In an interview with French newspaper, La Voix du Nord, Dhifaloui herself emphasizes that the initiative enables women farmers to “encourage each other to impose their existence, it is not only the teacher, the doctor, they too can work and feel that they have a place in society.” Through this very presence of belief and independence, Dhifalfoui has not only imbued women with economic support but indeed mobilized the female population. The success of their harissa thus becomes a bold reminder of the immeasurable value of women to society, as well as the power of civil society to revolutionize the socio-political foundation of society.
French telecommunications company Orange has similarly recognized the power of Tunisian civil society, as they came to collaborate with FACE Tunisie, the Foundation Agir Contre L’exclusion, translating to the Foundation for Action Against Exclusion. What emerged from this partnership in 2015 was the opening of the Sidi Thabet school, a digital center, which has harnessed the burgeoning capabilities of technology to educate and empower an entire gender. With 26 more digital centers opening in 2015, an educational revolution engulfs Tunisia.
Galvanizing this era of progress, change, and technological empowerment is the cooperation agreement signed by the Tunisian Ministry of Women and the Foundation in 2017, which seeks to consolidate the courses’ digital content and further deploy the Centres to areas, most needed. With 13 more digital houses opening in 2017, the Programme has been able to train 550 women with the technological and financial skill set to become micro-project promoters. For it is within these centers, that the eyes of the female students illuminate with a sparkling wonder. Their hands clutch to the new tablets, for in their hands lays a symbol of hope and change, not only equipped with a plethora of educational content, but with their future.
It is with this accumulating feminist focus of civil society where there emerges a greater consciousness with Tunisian society, a consciousness now recognizing the significance of women as a highly politicized, and integral part of the Tunisian population. The political power and value of the Tunisian women have indeed become undeniable. Since acknowledging men and women as equal in Article 21 of the 2014 Constitution, the Tunisian President alongside Parliament has sought to pair the proliferating economic and political power of women with new legislation; that beckons social change.
On July 26, 2017, the Tunisian Parliament passed a landmark law to eliminate violence against women. It introduced new criminal provisions to prosecute domestic violence, as well as implemented a comprehensive system of legal, medical, and mental health support for domestic violence survivors. Following this, President Beji Caid Essebsi addressed the crowds on National Women’s Day, August 13, 2017, to propose amendments to provisions governing rules of inheritance and marriage contracts in the Personal Status Law of 1956. Such unequivocal affirmation of women’s rights now proclaims the growing political significance of women within Tunisia, as a promise of justice and rights, originated from the Arab Spring seven years ago, becomes foregrounded in the political agenda.
The revolution for women has long been burgeoning within Tunisia. It has been an underlying yet pulsating political consciousness, unable to be placated, yet now becomes revived and emerges powerfully to witness true change. The laborious and conscientious efforts of Tunisian women now come to fruition in the political sphere, as legislative change gradually becomes enacted, and the equality of women truly seems imminent.