Over half of Tunisian women have experienced some form of violence in public in the last four years, according to new research.
53.5 percent of those interviewed for a recent study by Center for Research, Studies, Documentation and Information on Women (known by its French acronym, CREDIF) reported to have experienced psychological or physical violence at least once in public spaces between 2011 and 2015. This includes women of a wide range of professional backgrounds living both in major cities and rural areas and both those who often go out in public and those who report to stay home most of the time.
Slim Kallel, the scientific coordinator of the study, said the research shows how public space in Tunisia remains dominated by men and largely inaccessible to women. “In public space… women are vulnerable to abuse because the [perceived proper] place for women [in the minds of many men] is the household,” Kallel told Tunisia Live.
Researchers interviewed 3,000 randomly selected women, aged 18 to 64, from 200 urban and rural geographic areas across the country. Each geographic sample included 15 women and five men from the same area.
The study highlighted the high prevalence of “psychological violence” in public space. This broad category includes a range of encounters, from being followed by men to being insulted or sexually harassed, and is reported to have been experienced by 78 percent of women interviewed for the study. Meanwhile, 41 percent of women reported having experienced physical violence in public.
Whether physical or psychological, the acts of violence are often sexual in nature. Over 75 percent of women said they had experienced sexual violence, a broad category that researchers said included everything from harassment to rape. More than 24 percent of women said they had experienced this type of violence more than ten times in the four year period.
Researchers found that a woman’s marital status effected the likelihood of her exposure to violence with nearly 80 percent of engaged women and 74.5 percent of single women reporting having experienced some form of violence, while the number approached 50 percent for married or divorced women.
Education level was also said to be a significant factor with 76.4 percent of women having pursued university-level studies reporting experiences with some form violence compared with 26.3 percent among those women who “never went to school.”
Kallel told Tunisia Live that the women interviewed report using various strategies to avoid harassment and violence in the street. “97 percent try to look serious and busy and to avoid being the center of attention, and 82.5 percent chose not to talk loudly or laugh in the street,” he said.
Feminist activist Amina Sboui recently reported that she had been violently attacked by strangers claiming that they were punishing her for the way she was dressed. Sboui responded to the incident in an opinion piece in Tunisia Live by saying that women are harassed in public space no matter what they wear. “I dream of walking the streets and not having to hear any opinions about my body,” she wrote.
A recent international study found that Tunisia is the only country in the Arab world and Africa where women report being harassed both for dressing religiously and for dressing too liberally. Street interviews conducted by Tunisia Live in April found that Tunisian women of various backgrounds consider street harassment “part of our daily lives.”
The CREDIF study was developed with the support of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and was published in Arabic in March.
Zeineb Marzouk is a journalist at Tunisia Live newsroom. She is currently pursuing a Master's degree in English language at the university of Human and social science of Tunis (FSHST). Zeineb speaks Arabic, English, French, and Italian.