1 in 5 Tunisian Women Victim of Domestic Violence, According to New Survey

By Carolyn Lamboley | Mar 2 2012 Share on Linkedin Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Share on pinterest Print

Tags: Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women ,National Office of Family and Population ,National Survey on Violence Towards Women in Tunisia (ENVEFT) ,World Health Organization

On February 29, the Tunisian National Office of Family and Population (ONFP), in cooperation with the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), held a conference in Tunis, where it present the results of a national survey conducted on violence against women.

The National Survey on Violence towards Women in Tunisia (ENVEFT, 2010) questioned 3,873 women aged between 18 and 64, living in all seven regions of Tunisia.

It is the first survey in Tunisia on the topic to be led in accordance with the recommendations of international organizations, adopting globally recognized protocols and definitions. This helped to address one of the major challenges of surveys on the subject of violence against women, according to one of the concluding statements of the ENVEFT. By applying operational definitions, it allows for estimates and categorizations of violence and comparisons at a national and international level.

For instance, the survey is premised on the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1993. This document defines the term “violence against women” as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

Furthermore, the survey used the World Health Organization’s (WHO) categorization of types of violence (physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence and economic violence) as its test variables. It found that in Tunisia, physical violence is the most frequent type of violence, followed by psychological violence. Coming in third place, sexual violence is less frequent, and economic violence is the least frequent. Approximately one out of five women has experienced physical violence, and one out of six has been the victim of sexual violence.

The survey yielded interesting results, comparing the prevalence of violence overall according to different variables, such as age, the matrimonial status of women or according to if it occurred within the private or publics spheres. It revealed that the private sphere (husband, fiancé, friend) is where a woman is most likely to be exposed to violence . The intimate partner is the author of physical violence in 47.2% cases, of psychological violence in 68.5% of cases, of sexual violence in 78.2% of cases, and of economic violence in 77.9% of cases. Family members are the authors of  physical violence in 43% of cases, of psychological violence in 16.7% of cases, and of economic violence in 22.1% of cases.

Outside the private sphere, violence against women is sexual in 21.3% of cases, psychological in 14.8% of cases and physical in 9.8% of cases.


The survey is part of a wider initiative called the Gender Equity and Violence Prevention for Women in Tunisia, led by the ONFP and the AECID and first implemented three years ago.

The survey results were derived from the total number of answers rather than the total number of surveyed women.

Tunisia is home to the Arab world's most progressive legislation regarding women's rights in both the private and public spheres. As early as 1957, the Code of Personal Status abolished polygamy, enforced a minimum marriage age of 17 for females and 20 for males, enforced consensual marriage on both parties, made divorce possible at request of either party and spelled out post-divorce maintenance and financial arrangements, amongst other clauses. This survey on violence against women demonstrates that despite a very progressive legal framework, there is still much to be done before real parity is achieved for Tunisian women.

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    Whenever people say Tunisia is the most progressive Arab country when it comes to women’s rights, I think about all the things I’ve seen and heard while visiting Tunisia. On the countryside, Tunisian women still have very little freedom. Many of them haven’t got the right to choose whom to marry or when to divorce, what kind of education they want, where they want to go or even how they want to dress. With islamists in power I’m not sure this will change.

    • The satirical paper “The Onion” put out an atlas a few years ago where it characterized Tunisia as a “Muslim Woman’s Dream Hell.” Now, before everyone takes offense, they gave every country (and US state) a similarly brutal treatment – it is satire, after all.

      If some international women’s rights activists come here for a conference in Tunis, they meet with the ladies of La Marsa and are assured of Tunisia’s broader commitment to reducing domestic violence. The unfortunate reality is that there is still a minority of women in Tunisia that confront the same old prejudices, and this is compounded by the strong separation between the public and private sphere. What happens at home is for home, and vice-versa. I am glad we are finally getting some hopefully reliable statistics on the matter that will serve as a wake-up call.

  1. (Thank you Ferid,
    I agree with your post!)

    Yesterday evening I read about the scandoulos incidents in Shousha, a Refugee Camp in the south of Tounis, where a Church has been vandalized.
    Today (12 o’clock) I am confronted with another article on violence in Tunisia.
    But please let’s talk about soccer (did you hear rumors about that player from Esperance who will be playing in Europe soon?),
    let’s talk about schrimps for China. wa yuhibboun al maala jamma!

    First things first they say.By saying We gotta get our economy in check first, then we can discuss further topics like violence.
    With faint-hearted excuses the most important issues are being suppressed!

    Supression appears to be one of the key issues. Suppression of women. Suppression of thought. Suppression everywhere I look.

    How did the French Colonizers rule the country? With Suppression!
    How did Ben ‘Ali rule the country? With Suppression!

    Suppression is one of the main means with which the Tunisian mentality was formed.
    How did you talk to the french colonizers? In excuses.
    How did you talk about Ben ‘Ali? In excuses!
    How do we talk about social issues like domestic violence? In excuses.

    If you overhear a conversation in public (in Tunis), what will you hear?
    Excuses! And when they turn their backs on you and go home, they will go on hitting and suppressing their family.

    Violence, an agent of supression, is a fierce oppenent of freedom!
    Freedom on the other hand is a major player for cultural as well as economic growth.

    It’s not about overcoming Ben ‘Ali. It’s about overcomiing the structures with wich he and the likes enslaved the country.

    How do we overcome these structures? Emanzipation!

    PS: Domestic violence doesen’t only concern women. But first and foremost children. They do not only suffer by seeing their mother and aunts (and other family members) being hit by a male suppressor (while physically being unable to stop a violent father i.e.). But their are the victim of domestic violence. Most children in Tounisia are being hit by their parents very brutaly!

    You gotta beat the system!

  2. According to Allstate Foundation National Poll on Domestic Violence 2004
    In the U.S. 3 out of 4 (74%) respondents personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.
    83% percent of respondents strongly agreed that domestic violence affects people in all racial, ethnic, religious, educational, social and economic backgrounds.
    2 out of 3 (66%) strongly agreed that domestic violence is a serious, widespread social problem in America.
    While 4 out of 10 (43%) ranked fear that the abuser will find the victim as the number one reason a victim would not leave his/her abuser, over a quarter (28%) thought that finding access to money/income to support the victim and/or children was the most important problem
    I am glad that Tunisia is not near that rate, but we need to combat domestic abuse as it only destroys our wonderful Tunisian family.

    • Dear Afif,
      in Germany there is a saying: Wenn du jemand anderen von einer Brücke springen siehst, springst du ihm hinterher?
      In English: If you see somebody jumping off a bridge, will you follow him?
      Further: in every Kindergarden (raudat il atfaal) you will hear some child saying in excuse of a bad deed: “But that other person did it as well!”

      Never compare, never compete! (so please don’t come up figures about the situation in america)

      Yes, a wifebeating Tunisian fits perfectly into the stereotype of the angry arab muslim.

      Domestic violence is unfortunately a worldwide phenomena, and it is unjust to point only at the Tunisians and mark them as wifebeater. You’re right in that point.

      Never the less I repeat that violence in general is a huge problem in Tunisia. Just browse Tunisalive and you’ll find plenty of evidence.

      And yes Tunisan family life is wonderful and needs to be protected :)
      It’s up to you to spread the word in Tunisia. Talk about it. Question where it is coming from, interfer when you wittness it etc.

      Germany deals with this ugly problem as well. How?
      There are campaigns every now and then that raise awarenes. And most important a beaten wife in germany is not left alone.
      There are so called “Frauenhäuser” (houses for women). It’s a place where troubled and beaten women can go, ask and receive help. There are professional social workers that show perspectives, that help fixing the problem, initiating a divorce if needed. Making sure that the affected woman gains economic freedom etc..
      These houses are not a long term solution for women. It’s rather an interim help, in case everything else (social structures, family etc.) fails.
      Where can a Tunisian women ask for help if in need?

      • @Martin:
        This portion of your comment was the point of my comment: “Domestic violence is unfortunately a worldwide phenomena, and it is unjust to point only at the Tunisians and mark them as wifebeater. You’re right in that point.

        Never the less I repeat that violence in general is a huge problem in Tunisia.”

        I know for fact that every thurdsday on the 5th Floor of a particular Court in the U.S. the hall is full of victims and alleged victims, abusers and alleged abusers. There is no excuse for domestic abuse, and have no doubt that if I see one, I will intervene immediately, no matter what the consequences are. Thank you Martin.

  3. There is no comparison between domestic violence in Tunisia and domestic violence in the USA. Tunisia woul dfit into the USA many times the numbers do not correlate. It is better to admit that Tunisia has a problem and focus on that rather than use the figures of another country to dismiss the problem in Tunisia. i love the country and have bee visitin gfor many years. However there is violence to women and not just physical but verbal also. There is a wide difference between the male and females. Sadly there are some women who will not help other women in these situation becuase they also have no voice or becuase it happened to them. There is an attitude of shut up and bear it. the reason there are many court cases in other countries is becuase women are supported and victims have rights. in some Arab countries if a woman is raped she needs four witnesses or she can be accused of adultery.

    So lets moe from denial and help these women get to a place of safety where they are supported and praised for thier courage to come forward. lets educate those women who turn the other way and help them develop the courage to help each other without fear of retrubution.

    • Just in case I was not clear. Domestic abuse is a worldwide problem. Men and Women need to be actively involved in combatting this problem. For those who are familiar with the subject, abuse can be not only physical, but also emotional. In the West, they have set up domestic abuse courts and laws were enacted to protect the victim. Typically, the victim of an abusive spouse or partner can seek a protective order from the nearest court, without having to pay any costs. The duty judge will sign the protective order, upon the affidavit of the victim. The order is dissiminated to a central registry, and a hearing is held within 30 days. The accused offender is prohibited from coming near the home, or place of employment of the victim. During the hearing, if the court finds proof of abuse, which can be based solely on credibity, the offending spouse will be orderdc to pay the house bills, spousal support, and child support, as well as go to an anger management class, in addition to paying the court costs for the filing and her attorney’s fees, he is ordered to continue staying away from the victim’s residence and place of employment. If there are any minor children, the court will order an arrangement where another relative can arrange for visitation. If the children were the victims or witnssed the abuse, the court may altogether prevent any type of visitation. The protective order stays in effect for 6 or 18 months depending the gravity of the situtation. In the U.S. the offender is additionally prohibited by Federal law from carrying or possession any firearms during the time the order is in effect, and the violation of this provision is a feloney punishable by up to 10 years at hard labor. If the police finds the offender within 100 yards from the victim’s house, he is immediately apprehended and charged with the violation of a protective order. They have shelters for abused women who offer classes to women about escaping the cycle of abuse. Local bar associations have also set up volunteer lawyers to assist the victim during the court hearing.
      One major problem is that some women have used this to make false allegations against their spouses, in order to gain advantage in a divorce or plan to divorce the spouses. But these are only a few cases and courts have become experienced in finding out.

      I am really having a hard time accepting that Tunisian men harm their spouses, and I hope that their day of reckoning will come soon.
      I have seen teenage boys in the dtreet and in the market harrass their female counterparts, and I got involved in protecting the victims, even though they were all total strangers. I was told it was not of my business, but it is.
      My father has never raised his hand against my mother, and he always said in the relationship between a husband and wife respect is paramount, and when respect ends everything has ended.
      The instance of domestic abuse in the U.S. see a sharp rise when the economy is bad. Tunisia’s economy has always been bad for the average folks, so probably it has been going on for a long time.
      Until we have a system fully set up to protect victims of abuse in a meaningful way, I think the moral obligation lies with each one of us to educate and protect our mothers and sisters.
      I did not want Tunisia to be singled out, but certainly I am saddened by the situation.