Keeping track of women’s gains and challenges
Tunis - Dalenda Larguech says Tunisian women should continue striving for their rights by lobbying for better representation in politics and stricter laws to protect them.
Larguech, who heads the Centre for Research, Studies, Documentation and Information on Women (Credif), wants government planning and strategy sessions to consider gender issues.
She recently announced that Credif was working to create a Council for Equality to be overseen by the presidency and the Ministry of Women. “A decree will be signed soon to create this council, whose mission is to ensure that all government committees provide equal opportunities,” Larguech said.
Tunisia has long been a leader in women’s rights in the Arab world. The Personal Status Code, adopted under former president Habib Bourguiba in 1956, granted women many rights and abolished polygamy.
“Bourguiba’s government had a vision that was the closest to a feminist approach to the question of women’s rights, [although] it is not feminist in the true sense of the word,” Larguech said.
“Today, many associations [in Tunisia] are advocating different manifestations of women’s rights.”
Larguech praised Tunisian women for their unrelenting struggle to protect their rights following the 2011 revolution. Tunisian women consolidated their gains despite threats, especially those posed by radical Islam, she said, pointing to the inclusion of the principle of parity in the constitution as a milestone in women’s rights.
“The constitution of 2014 supports the concepts of equality and parity, puts an emphasis on equality of opportunities and declares that the state must fight against all sorts of violence,” Larguech said.
While Larguech said she is pleased the government lifted its reservations about the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, she remains concerned about its implementation and notes that some legislation in Tunisia still discriminates against women. Credif will address discrimination in legislation as the theme of International Women’s Day activities.
“We acknowledge that Tunisian women have [made] gains but we still have a long way to go,” Larguech said. “The violence law for instance is proof that our laws do not protect against violence.”
Larguech says preventing violence against women should be a government’s priority.
“It is a priority to have a law to protect women, a law that is inclusive. The law still discriminates as the head of the family is paternal and not parental,” said Larguech. She is working with the Ministry of Women on a new comprehensive law.
Larguech recalled that in Tunisia changes have occurred first through the law.
“The law is a precondition for rights to exist — necessary but not sufficient,” she said. “The law guides and provides background. The laws we have today are not comprehensive enough.”
But she is aware that laws alone are not enough to change thinking; awareness and education also are needed, she said.
Larguech and Credif are credited with introducing gender studies as an academic discipline in Tunisia; a master’s degree programme at the University of Manouba started this year. A scholar of women’s history and studies, Larguech says that such programmes will lead to intellectual change among Tunisian students consistent with the cultural role universities should play.
Larguech has twice won the Zoubeida B’chir Award for Tunisian Women’s Writings in Scientific Research (in 2001 and 2011) and her book The History of the Maghreb Through its Sources won the Arab Maghreb Union Award in 2007.
Ahead of International Women’s Day, Larguech reflected on life for women in the Arab world. She praised political gains women have made in Morocco and Kuwait but said that such progress needs to be consolidated by including women in decision-making positions.
“There is no establishment of a real democracy if there is no real participation of women in politics as leaders and decision-makers,” Larguech said
One of the biggest threats to Arab women derives from radical Islamist groups, some of whom have recruited women. Larguech says that global networks are behind such groups and that the only way to combat them is by providing alternatives for young women, such as by encouraging participation in the public domain, granting them equal opportunities in the job market and giving them decent education.
“The solution is to encourage young women, to give them hope to be of value, to have a job, an education. Universities must regain their cultural role and families should talk to their children,” Larguech said.