In the «most developped country for women in the Arab world», the struggle for women rights remains more relevant than ever
Wahhabist sermons and propaganda
The Tunisian government is welcoming Wahhabist Imams and sheikhs with open arms . The Egyptian preacher Wajdi Ghonim, who advocates and glorifies female circumcision, has given lectures in many regions of Tunisia in February 2012. Other Wahhabist Imams and preachers (such as Amr Khaled, Safwet Hejazy or recently Nabil Al Aouadhi) take their turns in Tunisia, by preaching reactionary sermons against so-called «miscreant» views (views of non-believers).
Asked about the recent reception for the Kuwaiti preacher Nabil Al Aouadhi in the southeast city of Zarzis by very young girls -all in hijabs- the Minister of Women and Family’s Affairs, Sihem Badi (from the CPR party, an ally of Ennahda in the ‘Troïka’ Government) commented: «Instead of repatriating him, his ideas should be allowed to be dealt with; this is the essence of the democracy we are trying to establish. The invitation of the Kuwaiti preacher falls within this framework.»
Not a word about the exploitation of girls aged from 4 to 7 years old, called «the Princesses of Zarziz» by the Islamist website ‘Zitouna TV’. This site is run by Osama Bin Salem, son of Moncef Ben Salem, Minister of Higher Education, co-founder of the association ‘Freedom and Equity’, and a current board member of the Shura of Ennahdha (the leadership of the party). This last point also confirms the close relationship existing between some of Ennahda elements and Wahhabism (ultra-reactionary version of Sunni Islam) and ideological backbone of the capitalist and theocratic Saudi system.
The Ennahdha government refuses to grant entry visas to some Tunisian activists or figures of the left, whilst it continues to welcome Wahhabi preachers who spread religious extremism in the mosques and cultural centres and serving as spokespersons for the enemies of the revolution, in particular from the wealthy Gulf States. The recent and very publicized «tour» of preacher Bechir Ben Hassen, warmly welcomed by the leaders of Ennahda, again underlines the need to organize across the country to present a political alternative to these people and the message they are bringing with them.
Girls being sent to Syria
The Minister of Women and Family Affairs Sihem Badi remains comfortably silent over the new phenomenon of the «Jihad of the Nikah»: This involves about 20 young Tunisian girls who have been abducted to satisfy the sexual desires of jihadists fighting the regime of Bashar Al Assad in Syria. Faced with the distress of parents and families who reported the disappearance of their teenage girls after it was discovered that they may have gone to Syria, the Ministry of Women and Family Affairs calls for more parental guidance, and denounces the lack of religious education!
Wave of rapes throughout the country
A growing and unprecedented wave of assaults and rapes are also reported across several regions of the country. In February, a pregnant woman in Ben Arous was raped by two thugs in front of her husband who could not do anything. On 23 March 2013, a disabled girl aged 11 was raped in Boumhel, in the southern suburbs of Tunis. On March 26, two girls aged 14, leaving the home of their teacher giving them private lessons, were raped by two men in Le Kef. In Beja (northwest), a disabled girl aged 20 was kidnapped and raped by a group of people, which lead to the victim becoming pregnant. Another woman was raped in Kairouan by a cop and two of his friends on the road; in the same city, a mother and her sister, were victims of a burglary and raped by two criminals, inside their very home. And these are just reported and publicized cases! Countless attempts of rape and physical assaults remain unreported.
The rape of the 3-year-old girl in a kindergarten in La Marsa has shocked the country. The extensive media coverage surrounding this case has contributed to revive Tunisian women’s struggle for their rights and freedoms. The case of the young 27 year old-woman raped in September 2012 by three police officers, who also extorted money from the victim’s fiance, had already provoked widespread anger and street protests, especially as the Ministry of Justice even made of the victim the main person in the dock. This victim-blaming logic is part of the trivialization of rape, one of the consequences of the unequal capitalist system, and ultimate expression of the domination of one human being by another.
Outrageous reactions from the Minister Sihem Badi, image of a reactionary government
The representatives of the Tunisian authorities have a very particular way of responding to the anger expressed in society to these crimes and to the pain and suffering of the victims and their families and to the struggles and claims of opposition and women activists. If Khaled Tarrouche, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said that the girl who was raped by three police officers in September 2012 was «in a bad relationship with her boyfriend», Sihem Badi vehemently defended the rapist of the 3 year-old daughter, saying that the perpetrator was part of the victim’s family anyway; she also questioned the statements of the parents and the child herself, and questioned the right of the Kindergarten to comment as they had no license to legally operate as a Kindergarten, there are thousands of illegal kindergartens in Tunisia.
In the case of the rape of the pregnant woman in her husband’s presence, the same contempt was shown for the victim, no measure of supervision or protection was given (especially since the husband’s family, who used to accommodate the couple, threw the victim and her husband out of the home, after the «scandal» that this case has caused the family).
The Minister Sihem Badi is a faithful member of the Ennahda clan, and has only one response to give: «I will not resign.» Meanwhile, despite her disastrous record, she did not hesitate to proudly go to Bourguiba Avenue in order to participate in the demonstration of February 9 in support of Ennahdha’s government and of the «legitimacy of elected officials». This event was a show of force against the real legitimacy behind the revolution, namely the revolutionary people and the street. It was also a response to the UGTT general strike and the funerals of the left leader Cholri Belaid which took place on February 8, when millions of people demonstrated in the capital and throughout the country.
Under this government, the struggle for women’s rights is more important than ever
Faced with a clearly counter-revolutionary and pro-capitalist regime, the concerns about the situation of women in Tunisia are growing. Women’s gains are being pushed several steps backwards. Under Ben Ali, the battle was focused on the enormous sums of money stolen from the people in order to fund token women’s organizations set up by the corrupt system, the RCD and the president’s wife herself, as well as fundamental issues such as the battle for equality in inheritance or the right to marry a non-Muslim without being forced to change one’s religion. Now we face a situation where we must fight to preserve our existing rights and protect the very physical integrity of women.
While the situation of rural women, female workers in factories and housekeepers is becoming more and more precarious, the members of Ennahda in the Constituent Assembly are concerned with discussing the return to polygamy and a constitution based on the Sharia law. No progress has been expressed regarding the status of women in Tunisian society, which remains lower than that of men, through inequalities in wages and recruitment, and higher levels of unemployment, and the double burden which is common to women.
The huge pressures placed on women are becoming intolerable with physical and social exploitation on the one hand, and the predominantly female household tasks and child rearing on the other hand. This will continue so long as there are no clear collective answers replacing the individual ‘solutions’ advocated by the capitalist system. For this, we need demands that coincide with the struggle of the organised workers’ and the youth movement – for the defence and the continuation of the revolution, to end this power, with its fundamentalist views and with the capital which feeds it.
These demands must include decent and properly paid jobs without any discrimination of sex (equal pay for equal work!); good public and social services, including free public nurseries and kindergarten in sufficient numbers and well financed in terms of staff through public funding of centers to help and support women who have been victims of abuses and rape etc..