US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg paid an official visit to the American embassy in Tunis, Tunisia on February 4th, 2012.
The visit came as part of the Supreme Court judge’s midwinter break sponsored by the US State Department.
During her visit to Tunisia, Justice Ginsburg hailed the participation of Tunisian women in political life, particularly in regards to the prominent presence of female membership in the Constituent Assembly. Women’s representation in the current Constituent Assembly is 25%, with 43 female members out of a total of 217.
Ginsburg spoke with a number of Tunisian political personalities during her trip, giving particular attention to the female representatives in the Constituent Assembly. She discussed with them the American justice system and the role of women in American society.
Mehrezia Laabidi, a representative of Ennahda and current vice-president of the Tunisian Constituent Assembly, personally met with Justice Ginsberg, and discussed the active participation of Tunisian women in post-revolutionary political life in Tunisia. Laabidi noted the lack of public attention given to the important contribution of Tunisia’s women in the Constituent Assembly.
“I think that Tunisian media does not closely follow the work of the Constituent Assembly’s female members. Female membership in the assembly’ s representation is not merely a symbolic thing”, Laabidi added.
On another note, Laabidi is optimistic that the presence and performance of women will improve in upcoming elections for the assembly’s committees. She is convinced Tunisian women in the assembly are fully capable of executing their duties at high positions within the government. She cited the resolute advocacy of women, like Maya Jribi of the PDP Party, both during the Ben Ali era and after the collapse of his regime, as an indication of the positive future for women’s rights.
However, Selma Baccar, a member of the PDM Coalition, criticized the uneven distribution of female representation across the spectrum of political parties in the Constituent Assembly. “There is a quasi-monopoly of Ennahda female members within the Constituent Assembly – with 43 members – leaving the rest of political parties and alliances with only 16 members,” she stated
While Baccar praised women’s active participation in the political scene generally, she noted that it is important to consider the distinctive approach of women to politics before judging the quality of their performance in the Constituent Assembly.
“Tunisian women members of the Constituent Assembly are more pragmatic. They speak less than men in public hearings of the Constituent Assembly, which is not to be interpreted as a sign of her passivity. Despite the fact that women do not necessarily occupy a leader’s position, their participation in hearings of the Constituent Assembly and in political life in general, remains important – given the quality of their participation”, she stressed.
However, Baccar blasted what she described as, “the complacent discourse of Western politicians when it comes to what Tunisian women have achieved in gender equality and participation in political life.”
“I do not believe nor like comparisons because they are not valid. Each country has its own specific political culture. We need a more objective and realistic, internal assessment of our own participation without any comparison,” she added.