by Khadouja Mellouli, Dr. Jelila Benzarti, Sonia Bouchandira
Tunisia is exemplary among countries in North Africa. For the last 47 years, women have enjoyed the same rights as men and contributed at least as much to the development and prosperity of the country.
As a result of this almost half-century of legislation favorable to women, Tunisian women can freely choose their partners, decide when and how many children they want to have, go to school, apply for any job and obtain any position. Yet women do not enjoy equal access in the fast-changing job market, which demands knowledge of computer science, the Internet, languages other than Arabic and finance.
Traditional education emphasizes Arabic, history and law. Furthermore, educated women are encouraged to focus on the humanities, because their role within Tunisian society is still seen to be first and foremost that of mother, caregiver and keeper of traditional customs. Men have greater opportunities for finding work because they are more mobile, have greater resources and are perceived by potential employers as the primary breadwinners who must work to support their families.
For centuries, women ensured that their families had enough water, took care of the earth that yielded their crops and drew from the local environment only what was needed. To adapt this knowledge to the conditions of swiftly modernizing Tunisia, the Tunisian Association of Women for Sustainable Development has created training programs for women teaching technical and professional skills. At the same time, the group uses innovative teaching methods that emphasize women's rights, their leadership potential and development methods that will not overuse critical natural resources.
As a result, women learn how to overcome poverty, confront unemployment, stand up for their political and civil rights and develop conservation programs, while gaining confidence to change society for the better.