Accessibility links

Women Fight for Equal Role on Tunisia's Future Path

  • Henry Ridgwell

As the political crisis in Tunisia deepens, opposition groups are continuing to demand fresh elections. As in the revolution two years ago, women are at the vanguard of the activists demanding change.

In a cold gymnasium adorned with Tunisian flags, the national wrestling team trains for its next tournament. Here, men train alongside women, youth alongside adults.

Marwa Meziane is women's African champion at 48 kilograms, and competed at the London 2012 Olympics.

She says training with the men adds a lot, it is more challenging and more fun.

Tunisia won its first women's medal at the 2012 Olympics. But conservative Muslims objected to the attire worn by 3,000-meter steeplechase silver-medalist Habiba Ghribi.

In Tunisia, women's sport has found itself drawn into the debate on the future role of women in society.

A draft of the new constitution written last year described women as 'complementary to a man.' That produced a storm of criticism from women's rights groups, and the clause was dropped.

Activist Ahlem Belhaj is from the Association of Democratic Women.

Belhaj says it's true there have been achievements in certain areas like equal representation, or in the drafting of the constitution, but there have been steps backwards at the level of society, and the fight continues.

The constitution is still being debated in the National Assembly. Meherzia Labidi is the assembly's vice president and a member of the ruling Ennahda party. She says the draft text describing the role of women was mistranslated.

"Now we are moving towards an article about women's rights that is more precise, that is clearer, so having more legal impact. And what is important in this article is that it mentions that the state shall commit itself to guarantee women's rights, "Labidi.

At a recent pro-Ennahda rally, this woman explained why she supports the Islamist party.

She says she stands for women who have children, for women who respect their husbands, who respect their work, who respect their lives.

A differing view comes from Emna Menif, president of the social activist group Kolna Tounes. She says Ennahda's influence on the government is putting women's rights at risk.

Menif says political Islamists reject all opposing ideas, and that women in particular are a target for those who are working to spread the doctrine of the Muslim Brotherhood. She says women are even more marginalized and are more at risk than the rest of the population.

Back at the gymnasium, the wrestling team continues its daily regime. Hedia Trabelsi is a World Championships bronze medalist at 51kilograms.

She says women have a distinguished place in Tunisian society. They work hard to achieve and to give more back to society.

The women and the men in the national team say they try to ignore the politics and focus on one thing: honoring the Tunisian flag.