Empowering Change: Women's Role in Tunisia's Political Landscape During and After the Arab Spring

Published: 2024-01-24
Empowering Change: Women's Role in Tunisia's Political Landscape During and After the Arab Spring
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Women Politics Sociology
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1734 words
15 min read


Women played an essential role in the events that made Tunisia's politics create a new turn. The Arab Spring took many observers by surprise in different ways. The events began with an act of a lone Tunisian street vendor, which later on cascaded into other countries in the Arab, and they became more dramatic than was expected. According to Joseph (2012), the female activism experienced during the Arab Spring was a sharp contrast to the perception that the West women, especially Muslim women, are oppressed and have little agency.

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The Western onlookers were not prepared for the televised images relayed from Tunisia, showing women and young women flocking to the protests (Johansson-Nogues, 2013). Women played a significant role in the protest; they occupied the public squares, gave speeches, organized marches, assisted in smuggling arms, gathered intelligence, and provided relief services making the uprising succeed.

Gender was the center of the Arab Spring uprisings for those who went to the streets. Gender roles and women's rights were not among the demands that the scholars and the protestors were fighting for. After the calls for freedom, social justice, and democracy, they were upholding the feminist principles of equality and justice that needed the nation to move away from the traditional social norms (Esfandiari & Heideman, 2015). These perceptions sparked a new interest that encouraged the participation of women in the uprising.

During the anti-regime, women were very ready to take to the streets to protest against the transgression experienced in their countries. Their courage was on another level since they had suffered a lot in the regimes. Women's presence encouraged the activists to expect an equitable role for women after the transition after the fall of authoritarian regimes (Manea, 2014). However, their courage and participation did not bear fruit because women's rights are still under attack, and gender-based violence against women is still rising. This paper aims to examine the role of gender in Tunisia's political developments during and after the Arab Spring. It will focus on the status of women before and after the political transition.

Historical background

Tunisia had some of the most liberal personal status laws in the Middle East before the Arab Spring Revolution; this was mostly because Habib Bourguiba liked to portray himself as a modernizing, westernizing leader and had a large urban middle-class political. The country was going through a series of pro-democracy uprisings and rebellions that spread all over the Arab countries (Charrad & Zarrugh, 2013). Ben Ali denied the citizens the fulfillment of their basic human development needs, ruled with brutal authoritarianism, and embezzled all formulas to promote socioeconomic development (Bargain, Boutin & Champeaux, 2019).

The Arab Spring began when a street Vendor Mohammed, decided to set himself to protest the seizing of his vegetable due to lack of a permit. His sacrifice became a catalyst for the Jasmine Revolution that took place in Tunisia. The protests that followed prompted authoritarian president Zine El Abidine to leave his position and run away to Saudi Arabia, which had ruled for over 20 years with an iron fist (Esfandiari & Heideman, 2015). This inspired activists in other regions and began to protest against authoritarian governments in their countries. The grass-roots movement increased social freedoms and encouraged more people to participate in the political transitioning process (Johansson-Nogues, 2013).

Arab Spring was about the revolution in 1848 when the political upheavals swept over Europe (Johansson-Nogues, 2013). The word spring has been used since to describe any political movement towards democracy. The uprising in Tunisia had significant improvement in terms of the human rights perspective. However, not all the nations that participated in the rebellion experienced social and political upheaval during the spring of 2011 (Manea, 2014).

The role of women in political developments in Tunisia during and after the Arab Spring

Women participated in the events that had an impact on politics in Tunisia since the Arab Spring. They played roles as politicians, journalists, photographers, and activities regardless of their social status. Tunisia has a vital position in Arab countries based on family law's promulgation, putting the country on the front line regarding women's rights (Dalmasso and Cavatorta, 2010). The participation of women went beyond the protests to cyber activism. They used social media to demonstrate as organizers and journalists. The Arab women were important revolutionists during the protests, and they hoped Spring would boost their rights (Deeb, 2011).

Women also played an essential role in many other countries. For instance, in Egypt, a young woman called for a one-day demonstration, which ensured men and women met at Tahir Square. The demonstration led to the fall of President Hosni Mubarak. In Libya, a revolt against Muammar Gaddafi began with mothers, children, and wives of prisoners massacred took to the streets to demand the lawyer's freedom arrested by the Libyan security (Johansson-Nogues, 2013). Several women activists played a role in igniting the protest sparks and ensuring the momentum was maintained. They ensured they mobilized people through blogging, expressing their views, and publishing videos on the unfolding events (Manea, 2014).

The Arab women's demands were similar to those that their male counterparts voiced from the beginning. They wanted justice, dignity, and democracy, as well as their rights as citizens (Deeb, 2011). Many supporters of gender equality hoped that the political transition would shape women's rights and that the reform processes would expand women's role in public life (Joseph, 2012). This was felt by the increase in the sense of empowerment and belonging experienced in the public square and participating in the protests.

Women from different generations became visible activists as the protests continued in the anti-regime efforts. The women from Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya appeared to have risen during the period to claim agency in the countries they represented. They used the slogans of "dignity" and "enough" Both men and women worked together in unison regardless of the challenges they were experiencing (Manea, 2014). The social taboos on mixing both men and women in public spaces and the gender roles were suspended. Both genders' unity made feminist Nawal El Saadawi note that she felt gender equality (Muslimah Media Watch, 2011).

The sentiment of gender equality was shared by women in Tunisia and Libya, who were in charge of logistics operations by providing critical public services. With women and the agency in the Arab Spring, the women activists from the three countries expected a role in the political transition processes (Manea, 2014). The previous claims that women should not be heard were ignored during the political revolution. The revolution showed that both men and women have equal stakes in transforming their political and social reality. Besides, both genders were equally committed to ensuring a country's change (Muirine, 2011).

The Karama organization in Libya maintained that the political revolution might not eradicate the abuses and discrimination that existed during the former regime without having a strong commitment to responding to the demands raised by women in the community. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, women's demands are still under attack from different North African countries (Manea, 2014). The Islamist parties have taken over power in the states that experienced the changes during the revolution. Their power is viewed as a threat to women's status in society (Deeb, 2011).

The observers drew pessimistic parallels between the Arab Spring and the challenges associated with achieving women's rights after the overthrows of other regimes such as the 1979 Iranian revolution, the Egyptian anti-colonialism, or the Algeria War Independence. Women played an essential role in all these revolutions (Esfandiari & Heideman, 2015). Still, in the end, their revolutionary brother dismissed the importance of their rights and sent them back to the kitchen without any improvement of women's rights or dignity (Dalmasso and Cavatorta, 2010).

Women had suffered for a long time from gender discrimination. This was the primary reason why they participated in the revolution. Women's sense of empowerment that was felt in the public squares came with a huge price; they were subjected to harassment, attacks on their characters, and violence as a way of undermining the legitimacy of the revolutions that took place (Charrad & Zarrugh, 2013). This was apparent in the political powers' public denunciations that attempted to undermine women's participation by shifting the debate from justice questions to morality questions. The struggle against women's bodies was not just a manifestation but a question of governance and politics (Bargain, Boutin, and Champeaux, 2019).

Women were not successful candidates in the elections regardless of their party list positions (Esfandiari & Heideman, 2015). The election result showed a need for diversity of women's organizations, efforts, and affiliations. Islamist women need to be involved in politics to help in understanding their interests and movements in Tunisia. According to Deeb (2011), the involvement of Islamist women in Tunisia politics boosts their political engagement and subjectivity.

According to Joseph (2012), women have played a crucial role in establishing the boundaries of the nations, and they are the symbolic makers of the nation. He argues that gender is at the center of the discourse on the citizenship of the nation. The acquisition of women's citizenship rights and political rights was made possible when dealing with political and socio-economic problems (Esfandiari & Heideman, 2015).

Johansson-Nogues (2013) notes that the relations between women and the Arab Spring revolution were not momentary. The increasing educational achievement of women and their role in the workplace contributed to the social mobilization needed during the uprising. Women had the ability to challenge the patriarchal structure by participating in political activities for a long period. They were able to give their views regarding the social and political order, enabling them to contribute to the uprisings (Manea, 2014).

Despite the challenges the women went through, the uprising led to a new dawn for women in the countries that participated in the uprising. They became empowered, and those who didn't participate in the revolutions were allowed to create new spaces where they can be able to advance their demands. The women have been offered an opportunity to rediscover their citizenship rights and contribute to the nation's political changes (Tchaicha and Arfaoui, 2012).

Tunisian women were so vigilant about their rights, ensuring that the government adopted parity in the electoral process, which indicated that women held 50 percent of the seats. The country had all the ingredients that made it a successful democracy. The ingredients include a strong middle class, a strong educational system, a moderate and progressive Islamic movement, and well-outlined gender rights. These are the main reasons why democracy has a strong success in Tunisia, better and faster than other countries involved in the Arab Spring.

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Empowering Change: Women's Role in Tunisia's Political Landscape During and After the Arab Spring. (2024, Jan 24). Retrieved from https://speedypaper.com/essays/empowering-change-womens-role-in-tunisias-political-landscape-during-and-after-the-arab-spring

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