Tunis book fair puts spotlight on women’s writing

The 34th edition highlighted the history of Tunisian women and celebrated female writers and artists in the Arab world.
Sunday 22/04/2018
Visitors browse books at the CREDIF stall at the Tunis International Book Fair. (CREDIF)
Special edition. Visitors browse books at the CREDIF stall at the Tunis International Book Fair. (CREDIF)

TUNIS - Amid concerns on the future of the print industry, the Tunis International Book Fair dedicated its 34th edition to Tunisian women, with panels focusing on the history of women’s rights in Tunisia as well as issues pertaining to challenges facing female writers in the Arab world.

The fair kept the same slogan — “We read to live twice” — as last year to underscore literature’s promise of living other lives through books. It was a nod to last year’s fair, which marked the much-awaited return of the event after issues stemming from the political unrest in Tunisia.

This year’s edition featured 259 participants from 25 countries, including 111 participants from Tunisia. The fair had 775 editors, with 126 Tunisians among them, representing 32 countries. Visitors were treated to more than 80 cultural activities, including exhibitions, readings and film screenings.

“What is special about this edition is the remarkable evolution of the number of participants, which is a sign of the return of trust of foreign parties after a period of instability in the country that affected the fair. The success of last year’s edition was a confirmation,” said fair director Chokri Mabkhout.

“It is a victory for the book. It is not only about having a successful fair but to promote the image and the culture of Tunisia in the Arab world and on an international level. These days are a celebration of the book.”

Paying homage to Tunisian poet Mohamed Sghaier Ouled Ahmed, who died in 2016, organisers based the theme of this year’s fair on his verse: “The women of my country are women and a half.”

The 34th edition of the fair highlighted the history of Tunisian women as well as celebrated female writers and artists in the Arab world through conferences and panels.

“This edition focused on women’s rights and women’s cause as a focal topic for reflection in the programme for conferences and panels. This choice reflects our conviction in the importance of the cause of women as a central drive for the progress of Tunisian society,” Mabkhout said.

Organisers worked with the National Centre for Research, Studies, Documentation and Information on Women (CREDIF) to set conferences, art exhibitions and film screenings dedicated to iconic Tunisian female figures.

“For this edition to dedicate its central theme for Tunisian women is important not only for women but also for the process of equality and our on-going fight for women’s rights. It is in this context that CREDIF participated in the book fair with a well-structured programme,” centre Director Dalenda Larguech said.

She added: “Our participation was important especially that this research centre is a public institution that works on equality and questions of women. As an intellectual, a militant for equality and as a director of this institution, I would like to express my gratitude for the fair for having provided this space for women.”

Rim Ouerghi, founder of Femmes Maghrebines magazine, praised the decision to dedicate the fair to women.

“I would like to thank the director of this edition for dedicating panels to discuss the issues of women and scheduling activities that put in the limelight the concerns and the achievements of Tunisian women. We are here today to defend our gains and to motivate women to continue pursuing their ambitions,” Ouerghi said.

She added: “It is true that Tunisian women have managed to achieve a lot but we were not given those gains on a silver plate. We fought for that and today one of the concerns is the censorship and self-censorship that was exercised on female writers.”

Fair organisers invited visitors to learn about the history of Tunisian women through art exhibitions and film screenings. It presented a forum with participants from different countries reflecting on concerns of female writers in the Arab world.

“Choosing this theme is much appreciated. This session was definitely a forum of exchange for women and for intellectuals to talk about their work, ideas and their views of the issues as female writers,” said Najet Fakhfakh, a Tunisian writer.

Syrian novelist Rosa Yaseen Hasan, one of the guests of the fair, reflected on the importance of shedding light on female writers in such events.

“It is difficult to talk about female writers. For me, writing about women is indeed about writing about the margin and the novel is one of the few disciplines that talk about the margins,” Hasan said. “Women cannot be summarised or restricted to one dimension. They, however, suffer from double marginalisation, in their societies and in the world of fiction.”

The Tunis International Book Fair dedicated a new prize for philosophical studies, named after Fatma Haddad, a Tunisian activist and philosopher. Fathi Engazou was announced as the first recipient of the award.

“One of the additions of this year was Fatma Haddad’s prize for philosophical publication, which is meant to highlight the importance of philosophy in the Arab world. Philosophy seems to be absent in some countries in the Arab world and even where it is taught it is superficial,” Mabkhout said.

“Philosophy is under attack, which threatens the critical analysis and the questions that dwell on the meaning of human. Tunisia has a long tradition of philosophy which is to be celebrated through this prize.”