Post-Arab Spring Tunisia: Women and Democratic Transitions


This panel drew on both Tunisian and Indonesian perspectives, with Admira Dini Salim and Dina Afrianty talking about the Indonesian experience, and Najla Abbes, Ghazoua Ltaief, and Ines Ben Youssef speaking about Tunisia. (More about these speakers in the program.)

We began with a general overview of the situation from the speakers.
Admira Dini Salim: Indonesia has a lot to learn from Tunisia, rather than vice versa. We need to look at all stages of the cycle, where women are included or excluded.
Najla Abbes: two key issues. Firstly, a fear of regression, as Tunisia has made a lot of progress and men are starting to complain about their need to ‘regain power’. Secondly, there’s a need to show that women deserve political participation and can participate effectively.
Ghazoua Ltaief: youth and women were at the front lines of the revolution, and then the first and second elections produced a huge gap between them and politicians. So now we’re trying to increase participation and make young people (including young women’s) voices heard, and not just on issues regarding women or youth.
Ines Ben Youssef: Women living in regional areas were excluded from political and civil life previously, so there’s a need to address this.
Dina Afrianty: 1999 – approval in the Parliament for Indonesian women to get equal political rights. However, there has a been a push-back against women’s participation in political life and the workplace in recent years.
Question: what do you do with the gap left in managing the household when women take on other responsibilities? And what is men’s roles?
Najla Abbes:
our observations are that women deputies involved in election representative were frequently blamed/scolded for ‘neglecting’ household responsibilities. We also see that men in parliament have difficulties in balancing life and work.
Ghazoua Ltaief: there’s an organisation called Tunisian Women which has done some research on women who are deputies in the national constituent assembly, and how that affects their lives. Many of these women did not get strong support from their husbands.
Admira Dini Salim: many women in Indonesia take on work that allows them time to take care of their families. Many women didn’t see political parties as safe spaces to work, including because of late-night meetings.
Dina Afrianty: Indonesia is a very large country which stretches across many islands, which makes things harder. For example, Indonesian girls in rural areas have had difficulty accessing educating. Another issue is the lack of childcare. Conservatives claim that LGBT issues emerge because children aren’t being ‘properly’ cared for and educator.
Question: could you talk about alliances happening across classes, and between secular and religious feminists, happening in Indonesia and Tunisia?
Najla Abbes:
we have a charter of shared beliefs, and we recruit and support anyone who is willing to adhere to that charter. The first provision is that women and men are unconditionally equal and deserve equal participation as citizens.
Ghazoua Ltaief: there are no alliances, unfortunately, between ‘modern feminists’ and Islamists, or conservative feminists. I have personally participated in many roundtables, focus groups, etc that bring together women from different backgrounds. There’s always some way to find ground for common communication, but going deeper there are always divisions. I’m not a feminist, because I work more on youth issues. But what I’ve been noticing is that there’s a deep division.
Najla Abbes: when we talk about alliances, I think about women working together too. When we started working in the field, we noticed that there were claims that we were too new, we didn’t know what was going on, and we lacked legitimacy. It took older organisations some time to realise that we all work together on the same cause, but now we are working together. When the old constitution draft talked about gender ‘complementarity’, we protested on the streets and there were over 100 associations involved in that. We come together around these threats to our lives.


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