Morgan Zajkowski, VGIF UN Representative
Ms. Sihem Badi, Tunisia’s Minister of Women’s and Family Affairs, spoke at a CSW 56 side event on February 28 2012 entitled “Girls: control of their bodies and access to development.” Ms. Badi was recently elected to her seat after living in France to protect herself from the gender-based violence in her country. Despite this, she remains optimistic about the new government’s positive push to pass legislation that both protects and empowers women.
Ms. Badi explained that it is not enough to simply have civil courts enforcing women’s rights; laws need to change in order to sustain the development that Tunisia has experienced since the Arab Spring and the subsequent elections. Although the process has been slow, she gave a few examples of laws that have already been implemented: political adjustment laws have now provided women with 25% of the seats of parliament, the legal marrying age for girls is 18, and contraceptives and abortions are available.
When asked her opinion on whether or not the Arab Spring was productive for women, she gave a mixed response. She said that it has been productive, but there are still many challenges ahead for women. Specifically, the fundamentalist parties have voiced strong opposition to this new freedom for women. This is especially problematic for rural women, as Ms. Badi noted, “We have to talk to leaders about the issue—we have to convince them that providing reproductive health services will not start a feminist revolution.”
Ms. Badi also talked about the necessity to involve a variety of groups and use education as a primary means of changing stereotypes. Youth involvement is essential, especially the empowerment of girls so that they are no longer considered a target. But working with girls alone will not be enough to make real change, as she said, “We must work with men and young men in prevention strategies.”
Despite these challenge, Ms. Badi remains determined to preserve and improve the status of women in Tunisia.