Women Speak Out for Their Rights in the New Tunisia - Tunisia Live Women Speak Out for Their Rights in the New Tunisia - Tunisia Live
Women Speak Out for Their Rights in the New Tunisia


Women Speak Out for Their Rights in the New Tunisia

Several thousand women and men, many of whom were draped in Tunisian flags, gathered in front of the Constituent Assembly in Bardo today to demand the recognition and reiteration of the rights and freedoms of women in the new Tunisia.

The peaceful protest drew people from a wide range of ages and social backgrounds who rallied around calls for Tunisia to keep a progressive, pluralist identity.

Originally organized to mark International Women's Day, the demonstration took on added significance yesterday when a Tunisian flag was desecrated during violent confrontations between progressive and Salafist students at Manouba University in the outskirts of Tunis. This event, captured in amateur video, has fast become a rallying point for progressive Tunisians who are increasingly fearful about the influence of Salafism and other Islamist movements in Tunisia.

During the 2011 revolution, the Tunisian flag came to symbolize not only the nation but the aspirations of the Tunisian people. The attack on the flag is being interpreted by many as a symbolic attack on national identity.

My country's flag is precious and it flutters in the sky and we will sacrifice our blood and soul for our flag were common chants that could be heard around the square.

Madame Mechri, one of the protesters interviewed, said that she was there to protest against the events at Manouba University. Yesterday [the Salafists] crossed a line, for us the flag is sacred, it is our identity,” said Mechri.

Sarah, a young Masters student at the University of Carthage agreed, I came because of what happened yesterday. The fact that they touched the flag “ it’s something serious.

Many of the protesters were there to defend the gains made by Tunisian women in the half-century since Tunisia became independent. Some expressed a fear that their hard-won rights were now being put at risk.

Men don't risk losing their rights, but we do, Mechri argued. Sarah said that she was afraid of Salafists who want to change the country. I want to see a modern Tunisia.

Afifa, a 55 year-old urban architect, took a day's holiday so she could come to the rally. I think the 8th of March is an important day for democrats and progressives “ it's a day that's almost sacred, she said. Afifa was frustrated by the antagonistic struggle between reactionaries and progressives and blamed the Constituent Assembly for failing to lead the nation through the revolutionary period.

Yasmine Bhar, a student who has a part-time job in a call center, was another protester who had given up a days’ pay to attend the protest. I'm afraid actually. I'm afraid for my Tunisia, for my future, for my rights she said. She too was frustrated by a perception that too little was being done, both by the government and citizens to counter the influence of the Islamist movement. I hope that people move. I want people to stop being cowardly and indifferent, she said.

Raja and Rim, two psychiatrists from Tunis, were also participating in the rally. They were there because we are women, we are citizens, we are responsible, and we are informed.” They saw the protest as a chance for women and men who are growing increasingly anxious about the future to develop a sense of unity and solidarity. Tunisians are anxious and worried about the future, and this is a cathartic experience.” They argued that the current contestation over collective identity comes from personal insecurity and in particular people who are preoccupied by their own identity.”

However, according to Raja and Rim, most Tunisian women were strong and were not suffering from an identity crisis. Serenity rhymes with liberty and dignity “ two key words of the Arab revolutions, they said.







  • Martin

    I do understand why certain people use and like flags. However I do not share their feelings. I find it nice but naive that the Tunisian flag became a symbol for freedom for Tunisians.
    I do not obey to any flag of the world. Instead I disobey to each and every flag.
    I do not sing any national anthem of the world.
    I am citizen of a state, yes. If I could choose I would prefer to belong to no country.I find nationalism disgusting and a source of suffering and seperation between the people.
    I am human being. National boundaries are not part of me. They are made up lines on a made up map. I do not obey to these boundaries.
    This flag incident led to the misuse of the world womens day.
    The fotostream on flickr shows pictures of women that expressed more than just the senseless and idle waving of a flag.
    They showed themselves put in chains. I find this picture very strong. It’s a comment and harsh critique to the situation. While this flag is overpainting all the other pictures. It’s a shame.

    • Marwan

      The salafists at Manouba university replaced the Tunisian flag with their own Hizb ut-Tahrir flag. It was a political statement with an unmistakable air of totalitarianism.
      The salafists wanted to show everybody at campus that their ideology should rule over Tunisia no matter what the people want.
      Months before replacing the flag, the salafists occupied the Manouba university and both verbally and physically threatened teachers and fellow students.

      I’m angry because the salafists is the only non-governmental group that is willing to use violence against other tunisians. This makes ordinary people really, really scared.

      It’s not about nationalism. It’s certainly not about the tunisian flag. It’s about respecting democracy and the peaceful nature of the tunisian revolution. Fascist tendencies must be confronted.

      • Al

        The flag represents the ppl and our history. When u take it down, you disrespect both.

        Marwan, your words are the ones I agree with. People have to make a stand and make it totally clear that the Salafis have no say because intimidation and violence is unacceptable. Salafis have become braver because the police dont do anything to them.

    • Marwan

      Besides, what alternative do tunisians have? They have just ousted their dictator and are hungry for democracy. Now is not the time to question nationalism or criticize flag waving.
      Waving the flag and celebrating the nation is part of building a tunisian democracy. It’s about coming together and being proud of being a valid member of the world community. Tunisians want that. Why do you want to deny them their wish?

      Waving the national flag in a democracy is somewhat better than waving the flag in a dictatorship…

      To be honest, I don’t like nationalism or boundaries either. But it is just too much for little Tunisia to change the minds of people all over the world. The love of the nation is a very deeply ingrained idea.

      The system of nation states is the least bad system right now. When the proper alternative shows up, and there is large support for it in the world, I’m in.