Youad Ben Rejeb





The “Democratic Women’s Association“ is a Tunisian association, that was founded in 1983. It was founded during the first two years of Ben Ali’s rule, which was a period of freedom. This means that after Ben Ali came into power, there was a two-year period of freedom. In this period the opportunity to create associations arose. Apart from the “Democratic Women’s Association“, one of the other associations created was the Tunisian branch of Amnesty International.

It is a women’s organisation created on the foundation of defending women’s rights, but we are demanding more than that. For example, not only are we demanding to preserve the code of personal status, but we would also want to improve it as we view that it has a lot of deficits.

It has three important sections.

The first section is the research section, which is engaged with the situation of women in Tunisia. For example, I do not know if I can give you an example for research. Wearing the headscarf in Tunisia. Why? What are the reasons? This is all part of the research section.

The second section includes fieldwork. Fieldwork means being in direct contact with women, it is represented by an advisory centre and a centre for legal advice. Women facing violence or other problems come to the advisory centre where they are taken care by the two representatives on call. If they need something psychological, meaning psychological support, or if they require legal advice or more than that, they are able to go there. The association supports a lot of women who do not have the possibility to get a lawyer. If a woman faces violence, she can come and explain her case to the association.  This is what we call fieldwork, this means that we cooperate directly with the women.

The third section is the section of formation. This is what I am specialized in within the association. It is represented by an entire corpus. It cooperates with the feminist university Ilhem Marzouqi. Only women attend this university and this is where we educate young people and where they first get training in psychology. They then attend six modules after which they have an end-of-year project. Last year the project was a play. In addition, we also offer seminars.

These are the three main sections of the association. But we also organize activities that refer to current events like the revolution. Of course we are not only occupied with things like that. We have been tracking the revolution since the first day, since the day we heard of Bouazizi. Even before Bouazizi set himself on fire, the association had always been supporting protests and youth movements. So we have always set up events that referring to current events in the country. We were on the spot before, during and after the revolution. That is all about the “Democratic Women’s Association“.





In fact, before the revolution it was pretty difficult to participate, because the association was considered to be against the regime, against the government. For that reason, we were always surrounded … how do you say… There was a total blockade on our activities. That means that in fact if we wanted to do something, we had to make efforts equal to three or four times comparing to other associations and we were always obliged to have a plan A, a plan B, a plan C to bypass the gopvernment since we always the police following us, listening our phone calls. And because on the last minute every time we were about to organze something, for example the hotel tells us that unfortunately they cannot accept us. For this we prepared always our seminars, our field actions with different plans: plan A, plan B. So if for instance a hotel tells us that they cannot accept us, we move to the plan B and vice versa. And thus it was pretty difficult but we were there anyway because we were independent and we participated thanks to our independence. We worked in different ways. Above all, what counted was the fact that we were there, that we were against what was happening, we will resist.
That was the way to make the revolution in our manner. We have also participated in a concrete way like organizing demonstration … at the time to support … in the beginning, because it was not more than social riots, it was not a revolution when it started, so we have supported these riots. But it was of course forbidden to go out and there were police blockades that forbid us to go out so we got the idea to go out on the balconies to shout. And we have have written slogans and banners and put one beside the other like this, on the whole balcony. And when we have put the banners up, the police have come to take notes. And they were fast to go back and report that the Democratic Women think this and what they wrote that. In any case we have reacted. For us it was important to tell that we existed and were standing with the people. But its true, that in that moment we have felt ourselves more active, because we got the freedom to speak, to participate, we got the means. For instance for me it was the first time in my life that I’ve seen an event in this kind of a stylish hotel. Before we couldn’t do that. We were always enclosed in our associations, one next to the other because we didn’t have the possibility to organize anything outside.
Now, it’s true that we can organize demonstrations … we organized already, after the revolution, the Women’s March and it was there, the first time in my life, that I have heard men saying: go back to your kitchens. It was shocking but we have had to hear it. We organized also a seminar, as I told you, or rather a national conference, which brought together women from the north and south, they came from Kasserin and Sidi Bouzid. We prepared a women’s manifest, and the manifest will be presented to the government or rather to the candidates in the elections.  Before we were working, did the same efforts, but the result were not really visible. Because it was not possible. Now, at this moment, we prepare a lot for the transition, we talk a lot about the democratic transition, we talk a lot about the elections and more importantly, since we are a feminist organization, we talk a lot about the role of women within the transition and their role in elections. The points at the moment are really the transition and the election. We want really to show women that they can be candidates and that nothing is easier than to go to vote. This is the point, that the tunisians have not known in the past and this is only just the moment when we live it fully.

There is another point which I forgot to talk about which is that we have created a committee after the revolution which is called the Committee for Investigation. Its a commitee that goes to the most disadvantaged regions, the most deprived regions, that had the most damages during the revolution. We wrote a report that was published and organized a press conference so that everybody could know the numbers and what we have really seen and thanks to this report we have finally decided to open a center in Thala, for women of course, that instead of being a Listening Center for Women Victims of Violence would be a “Listening Center for Women Victims of Repression During the Revolution.” This is the most recent work.


The manifest is a different thing. But we have really tried to have a close look of our Constitution, what are the downsides, what should be rewritten. We as feminists and women who fight for egality and dignity have begun to question the laws or rather the articles which which discriminate and devaluate woman.
So it is a double work. First, the Women’s Manifest, which is for the candidates. Secondly the work for the Constitution which is still on going.


What we did during the revolution were more things at the same time. We did things that seem very small, that are not big activites. For example, during the revolution,
we have provided basic services. Because the young people were demonstrating. And everytime there were young people that were espaping the police in different directions and they were not able to hide.That’s why we decided during the revolution to provide basic services, to keep our office open. So that the young people could have a place to hide and rest. Our contribution happened through such little actions, because to keep our office open doesn’t seem like much,  but in reality it was for the young people who hide themselves, who came and escaped the police. It was a place that gave them security and secondly it was also a place were they could gather. Because at the time, under Ben Ali we did not have the right to public spaces. We didn’t have a space where we could get together and discuss. This was all forbidden. What we can now see happening now for instance in (the main avenue) Habib Bourgiba where there are people that come, speak, discuss, all this we didn’t have, it was forbidden. When three or four people got together to discuss, it was already a threat to the regime and was thus forbidden. So our ofice too, we opened it in order that the people could come and discuss and debate and maybe do other projects or associations. Because for us, this is essential for the civil society. So it goes from very little actions like just opening the door for everybody, for the young people, to helping out these women, in psychological and juridical matters.





Our association … There are already other feminist associations in Tunisia with which we work. First of all there is the AFTURD, which is an association of Tunisian feminist women who work for development and development research. They are our most important partner. But there are others, although in Tunisia there are not so many feminists, or women organized in associations … but there are others like La Lige which is an important partner for us – the League for Human Rights. There is also the Amnesty International, which is also a partner for us.This is within Tunisia. In the Arab world there are three coalitions, the first one is called “AICHA” which a name for a young girl but means also “to live”. It is a coalition of Arab feminist women. There is also a coalition against all discrimination against women. So there are coalitions or rather partnerships between women organizations in Tunisia, with associations or independent feminists.  And in the Arab world there are coalitions between the associations on that level, as there are on a global level. There is for instance a global coalition of Muslim women for sexual and physical rights. Which started about two years ago. So its all around the world.





They have always criticized the Association of Democratic Tunisian Women for furthering bourgeois claims, for being an elitist association which doesn’t speak to the people. This is true because our association hasn’t been attacked only by the regime but also by the machos, by men that complain that we don’t fight for the cause of the Tunisian people but for things that are not really interesting. And evidently our association has been attacked from various directions: Firstly the government considers it as an anti-government association, then the men think it is a what-ever organization, that it is not important because after all, the Tunisian woman has all her rights, and is emancipated. Its like this even for women, because it is true that feminism is a mentality … and we are still being attacked. Because to achieve a feminist world is not really what the Tunisians want, for what they would militate for. So for them these are just proposals, not really actual ones now. And this might be because the governments both of Bourgiba and of Ben Ali, they have used a lot this question of the woman, worked on it in order to do their propaganda, to transmit their political message. And in the end there is the impression that the Tunisian woman has all her rights. And they ask, you have all your rights, what do you still want? But in reality, we don’t have everything. Even when you read carefully the statutes of the civil law – which are considered generally in the Arab world as an example, the most progressive one, even in this code there are many details, many points which will have to be changed in order that the Tunisian woman can be really emancipated. Among these points I can cite for example the legal determination of succession, in other words the rights of inheritance. Or the custody of children, because in Tunisia, although the woman “is emanicipated” and works outside,  she doesn’t have the custody of her children. It is always the father who is the head of family and always the father who decides for the children. And so there are several points that have to be revisited and changed. So I think, that the government has really worked on the “woman question” so much that now the Tunisians say they are fed up with this question. “Lets speak of other things than this question please”.