Female Tunisian students outperform male peers in key exams

Female Tunisian students’ performance at baccalaureate exam gives them an edge in accessing completive fields of study in universities.
Thursday 05/07/2018
Tunisian students walk outside their school in Bizerte, last on November. (AFP)
Tunisian students walk outside their school in Bizerte, last on November. (AFP)

TUNIS - Female Tunisian students scored higher than their male peers on end-of-the-year baccalaureate exams, giving them an edge in accessing completive fields of study in universities.

The results, part of a long trend of women advancing in professional fields in the Maghreb, fuel arguments from rights activists that women should be given expanded rights and freedoms.

Tunisian girls outperformed male students in all exam subjects, claiming the highest scores in literature, maths, sciences, economics, technical sciences and sports, the Education Ministry said.

In Morocco, more girls passed the baccalaureate exams than boys, though the top score was from a male student attending an elite high school in Marrakech. Among the 187,138 high school students who passed baccalaureate exams in 2018, 55.3% were girls, Morocco’s Education Ministry announced.

Algeria’s exam results have not been released but girls are expected to perform well there as well. Last year, 65% of students who passed their final exams were girls, with Khaoula Blaska from the coastal Skikda region taking the top score.

Girls’ success in the education system comes after years of reforms in the Maghreb, where about 95% of women were illiterate less than 60 years ago, official figures indicate. Since then girls have made quick progress.

In Tunisia and Algeria, the number of female university graduates has multiplied considerably. Now, some 60,000 Algerian women and 30,000 Tunisian women graduate from university each year.

Female university enrolment increased significantly in Morocco, as well. By the end of the 1990s, 41% of all university students were female and that number has continued to rise. In fields such as medicine, dentistry and the humanities, female enrolment is more than 60%.

Education is encouraged by both the government and society in the Maghreb, which suffered centuries of colonialism under which decent education was often unavailable.

In Tunisia, hailed as a trailblazer for women rights in the region, there is a push to further protect human rights. A presidential commission recently proposed a series of progressive human rights reforms to protect individual freedoms, drawing criticism from some Islamists and conservatives who argue they would go against religious precepts.

Among the commission’s proposed reforms are enshrining equal inheritance rights for women, decriminalising homosexuality and abolishing the death penalty.

Morocco, under reform-minded King Mohammed VI, has taken bold steps to establish parity between the sexes through legal reforms.

The country’s progressive Family Law, known as al Mudawana, includes key rights for women, including the right to self-guardianship, the right to divorce and the right to maintain custody of a child. The required age for marriage was increased from 15 to 18, with women no longer required to have a male guardian approve their marriage. Feminist groups push for more steps, such as inheritance rights, to ensure equality.

In Algeria, women have the right to vote, run for political office and initiate divorce but face prejudice from some elements of society. In June, an Algerian woman prompted demonstrations after she took to social media to describe a man verbally abusing her while she was jogging before dawn during Ramadan. The woman said she went to the police station to complain but was met with more sexist comments there.

Her story prompted thousands of men and women supporters to job on street throughout the country, under the banner: “It is me who decides where I shall be.”

Not all reactions were supportive. The day after the jogging incident, an Islamist figure urged others to throw acid on women on the streets. He was arrested.

Political analyst Mustapha Hammouche said: “Islamists never abandon violence and terrorism. What changes in their strategy are the levels of violence that vary from intimidation, menace, aggression and murder.

“Their target of choice is the woman as Islamists reach alliance easily with conservatives against expressions of individual freedoms and rights.”