Though it is still unclear what portion of the UNFT budget will be affected, union president Radhia Jerbi told Middle East Online that the government funds are used to pay employees and finance the organization’s programs.
According to Wissal Jaaibi, a member of the executive bureau of the UNFT, the union has been in drawn out discussions with the government about their funding status.
The National Union of Tunisian Women typically receives funding from Tunisia’s Prime Ministry. Certain UNFT programs may still applicable for funding through specific ministries like the Ministry of Finance or Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
“The reason why they refuse funds is that government feels it is not represented in the organization,” Jaaibi said in an interview with Tunisia Live, adding that female Ennahdha NCA members have told the union that it does not represent them.
“The UNFT has tried to talk to the government and even the NCA and they had no clear response. The government has dragged the UNFT into a cyclone of judicial cases,” Jaaibi continued, saying the union has been unable to pay some of its employees for the past four months.
Jaaibi told Tunisia Live that the UNFT is “on the verge” but not yet officially bankrupt.
“In case that happens the government is fully responsible,” said Jaaibi. “They are playing a game with us…no organization can work without funding.”
The UNFT was formed just after Tunisia’s independence and has operated for over 50 years as a state-sponsored women’s rights organization.
Since its founding in 1956, the union has staunchly defended the country’s central piece of women’s rights legislation the Code of Personal Status, leading those critical of the legislation and the former regimes to dub the group the “social wing” of former President Habib Bourguiba’s party and a symbol of state feminism.
“The Ministry of Women’s Affairs accused the UNFT of being a remnant of the old regime and being an RCD-ist organization,” or aligned with deposed president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, said Bochra Bel Haj Hamida, former president of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (AFTD).
Jerbi echoed this allegation in the Middle East Online report, saying a government policy of favoritism in allocating funds was to blame for the union’s bankruptcy.
No ministry officials responded to Tunisia Live’s repeated request for interview.
“The state refused to fund [the UNFT] because they want to manipulate it,” Bel Haj Hmida alleged. “Ennahdha wants to put its hands on the organization or else…destroy it.”
“We are independent,” Jaaibi said. “The UNFT is entitled to funds just like [Tunisian labor unions] UGTT and UTICA.”
“If we go bankrupt, this simply means the failure of the modern state, failure of government, failure of independence,” she added.
Nissaf Salma contributed reporting.