Tunisia has been one of the first countries to start the fight against all types of gender discrimination. Two people who are supporting gender equality are Fatma Amri and Riadh Bechir. In our interview they talk about the situation of gender equality in Tunisia as well as their motivations, observations, and lessons learned.
Fatma Amri (center) during a focus group meeting organized by the local coordinators. The majority of the participants are female: "This emphasizes the fact that women in the south are really interested in gender equality although men are not."
For more than a year, Fatma Amri and Riadh Bechir have been exploring a concept called “community of practice” in order to strengthen connections among different stakeholders dedicated to promote gender equality in Tunisia. Both of them are based in the south of Tunisia and - together with other local coordinators all around Tunisia - part of the project “3eshra: Building a Gender Equality Community of Practice in Tunisia”.
Fatma Amri (right) and Riadh Bechir are local coordinators in Tunisia. They want to support the participation of women at local and regional level.
Tunisia is often quoted as an example for gender equality in the region. How do you perceive gender equality in Tunisia?
Fatma: Tunisia has been one of the first countries to start the fight against all types of gender discrimination. However, we have not come to the end of achieving the ideal gender equality. We are still on the road to accomplish it. Now, I think it is time to seriously spot the light on gender equality in Tunisia. It is time to rethink and rewrite our legislation. It is not only a task for political parties and representatives. Citizens, civil society, decision-makers – Tunisian society as a whole – need to work together to achieve gender equality.
Riadh: There are some improvements. But a lot still needs to be done in the future. The situation of women is different from region to region. They do not face the same problems. For example, in the south (of Tunisia), women are very interested to fight against unemployment and to participate in decision-making at the local and regional level. We hope that the situation of women, especially their economic situation, will improve. At the same time, the application of law must improve because one does not only need the existence of law but also its application to improve the situation of women.
“One does not only need the existence of law but also its application to improve the situation of women.”
Was this situation in Tunisia the reason why you applied for the 3eshra project?
Fatma: I previously worked in the field of gender and it motivated me to learn more about gender equality in Tunisia and in the region of Gabès, my home region. I wanted to get more involved so I applied for the 3eshra project. At the beginning I did not understand the concept of a community of practice. It is a new concept not only for me but also for people I have been in contact with. Since 2011 civil society in Tunisia has been working in the same traditional way. The concept of a community of practice is an innovative concept and it personally encourages me to continue working in civil society.
Riadh: I am interested in gender issues. I conducted some projects that focused on the economic situation of women at the local level. As a researcher, I work a lot in this field. I have seen women’s situation in rural areas, met women who cannot participate in social or economic life. And I have worked in civil society, I have tried to find solutions for these women, to make a plea to improve their situation. I also enjoy getting in touch with people. It is new in Tunisia to create a community of practice. It is a new subject, a new concept. For me it is the first project where people working on a certain issue are brought together.
It is important for Fatma and Riadh to succeed in creating bonds with people and a comfort zone: "Seeing the motivation of people gives us the push to do more."
What have you experienced as a local coordinator within the 3eshra project? What are the biggest challenges?
Riadh: The 3eshra project fascinates us and we support the outcome of the community of practice among actors who are interested in gender issues. It will be a success if we manage to create a collaborative work spirit among these actors in order to jointly improve the situation of women. In the upcoming months, we will check the possibility of collaborating with other associations.
Fatma: My role is to coordinate, organize events, and spread the word about gender equality. To talk about and tackle specific issues that deal with gender equality in the regions. The biggest challenge so far are big events. I was afraid that we would not succeed, that we would not convince people to come and join us. But they did come and it was a success! We succeeded in creating bonds with people and a comfort zone. The motivation is really important for us. If we see that they are motivated, we are motivated as well to do more. Seeing the motivation of people gives us the push to do more.
“Gender equality is men and women!”
Who takes part in your events? Do also men come to your events?
Fatma: During our first focus group meeting, we had 100 % of female participants. During our regional meeting, we had a majority of female participants again. This emphasizes the fact that women in the south are really interested in gender equality although men are not. But gender equality is men and women. It is not only achieving equality of women. We talk about topics that affect both men and women.
What did you learn during your first months as a local coordinator?
Fatma: Personally, I learned how to be more empowered. Because I am working on a project that deals with gender equality. I need to be empowered first in order to empower other women.
Riadh: The importance of collaboration between local actors in order to improve the situation of women. It is important to make it visible among citizens and local actors, to improve our networks and to support other associations that are interested in women’s issue.
What would you like to achieve with the 3eshra project?
Fatma: I want to leave a mark, I want people to remember the events and meetings we organized. I want to hear from them that the project was a success.
Riadh: We want to change the invisibility of the issue so we can focus more on women and support their participation at the local level. We will make a plea and encourage associations to work together to improve the situation of women in the region.
About Fatma Amri and Riadh Bechir
Fatma Amri comes from Gabès and studied English and internationalization. She started working in civil society in 2011 and served as a general secretary of the Will and Citizenship Organization and as trainer, project coordinator, and election observer with the League of Tunisian Women Voters (LET).
Riadh Bechir holds a PhD in economics. He is a researcher at the Institute for the Arid regions of Medenine and president of the Association for Development and Strategic Studies in Medenine. He has been publishing scientific articles and working in different associative projects in the region.