On April 30th, 2019
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Hend Bouziri, and I am an academic. I represent the Association Tounissiet.
The association was created after the revolution to promote women’s rights. Laws that support women are very important, but they are not enough. Mechanisms are necessary to implement those laws so that all women and girls are guaranteed access to the rights they afford. Although Tunisia has some of the most progressive laws on women’s rights, a large segment of the female population does not have access to them.
In my presentation, I will cover five issues: transitional justice and gender, socio-economic rights, political violence, challenges around enforcing laws to eradicate violence against women, and the rights of migrant women.
I’ll begin with transitional justice and gender. In our work on transitional justice and gender, we noted that very serious violations against women were committed during the period of the dictatorship, prior to the revolution. Those violations are specific to the Tunisian landscape in three ways. First, the women and girls who are victims are activists or the relatives of activists. Secondary victims suffer violations that are equally as serious as those suffered by direct victims, or even more serious. In fact, these women are used to punish their family members. The violations are specific in a number of ways, and a great deal of effort has been made to identify them. Victims suffer sexual, economic, social, psychological and other violations. Another notable fact is that the violations occur over long periods of time. That is especially true of violations involving labour and mobility rights, forced divorce and, of course, sexual abuse. The third distinct feature is that the state is behind the violations, through government institutions as well as laws and specific orders.
The country’s truth and dignity commission, established by law further to the transitional justice process, recently submitted its final report, which did not include violations against women, essentially sexual abuse. They are addressed only in the recommendations. The report sheds light on the facts and circumstances related to other violations, but not those of a sexual nature. Furthermore, the report does not indicate that the state must see to the rehabilitation of victims through existing mechanisms in the ministries for women’s affairs and health, which are responsible for women victims of violence.
Another challenge when it comes to women victims is access to specialized courts. Since the bulk of violations were committed outside the legal framework and given the difficulty of obtaining evidence to establish the facts, violations against women are likely to resume. A record has not been preserved, the truth has not been laid bare, and the state has not recognized the facts. It is therefore necessary to guide people through the transitional justice and gender process, after providing them with help. Consequently, we are calling on the Tunisian government to make a strong and formal commitment to develop a plan and programs in response to the final report of the truth and dignity commission, specifically its institutional reform recommendations to safeguard against human rights violations including violations of women’s rights. We want to draw particular attention to the importance of specialized criminal courts as a way to truly guarantee that transitional justice is carried out, that the truth is ultimately brought to light and that impunity for violations is addressed.
The second issue I’d like to address is socio-economic rights. Inequities are evident in the rights of women and girls in different areas, be they urban, near-urban or rural. Those inequities relate primarily to mobility and access to transportation and health services.
Two days ago, 12 female farm workers lost their lives because they weren’t transported safely to the fields where they were supposed to work. The working conditions of female workers, their transportation to farms and their welfare on farms constitute a societal problem affecting nearly 30% of Tunisian women.
Access to health is another problem for these women and girls, so much so that Tunisia has a very high rate of death in childbirth. Gender-responsive policies and public services are necessary at the local level given the emergence of decentralized governance.
My third point pertains to women’s involvement in the transition to democracy, specifically the political violence inflicted upon women who run for political office. This is all the more evident given that the political climate is already very aggressive, affecting women politicians especially. They tend not to participate in debates covered by the media. That violence is something our association has observed in working with elected women officials from various political parties, whose approaches and internal rules fail to take gender into account. Women are excluded from decision-making positions in their parties and are therefore ill-prepared for positions in Parliament and the government. That is why it is so important to build parity into the executive management and decision-making positions of not just political parties, but also unions.
My fourth point concerns enforcement of the 2017 organic law on the elimination of violence against women. Despite being revolutionary, the law is hardly being enforced owing to the lack of support mechanisms for women victims of violence, not to mention the lack of effective policies that would allow the state to eradicate all forms of violence against women, as the law stipulates. These mechanisms must adhere to safety and accessibility standards.
My fifth and final point has to do with migrant women. According to the International Organization for Migration, Tunisia is currently home to 75,000 migrants. The number of women and girl migrants has increased in recent years, and may account for nearly half of all irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. This vulnerable population faces unique problems related to knowledge of their rights under national law, as well as access to and the justiciability of those rights.
What’s more, their irregular situation makes them vulnerable, putting them at risk of marginalization and thus emotional, sexual and economic violence, human trafficking, specifically for financial gain, and prostitution. Their wide-ranging needs are not always taken into account by the government. The 2017 organic law on the elimination of violence against women does not include special consideration for migrants; nor does the national strategy to combat violence against women. Although the future organic law on the elimination of racial discrimination deals with discrimination based on race and ethnicity, it has yet to take effect. The 2016 organic law on human trafficking is beginning to take effect with the introduction of a national authority to prevent human trafficking. Nevertheless, the law does not address violence against women asylum seekers or refugees, dealing solely with victims of human trafficking.
That concludes my presentation.