By Nada Riahi, IDLO Program Manager for Tunisia, and Raffaella Pizzamiglio, IDLO Research Associate
Tunisian women professionals have made significant strides in their rate of participation in the justice sector in recent years.
IDLO's research in the country has found that the total figures for both magistrates (41%) and lawyers (43%) are now approaching parity for the first time in the country’s history.
This trend is set to continue. Women’s presence in all branches of the magistracy has grown steadily since 2009, and three quarters of today’s law students are female.
Women professionals in many fields have benefited from the country’s 2014 Constitution – the first in the Arab world to directly establish gender parity as an objective. A concerted political effort to reach this goal, as well as an active feminist movement, have had a positive impact on gender equality. The commitment of Tunisia’s newly elected president Kais Saied to support women’s rights is encouraging.
And yet, IDLO’s study serves as a stark reminder that gender equality does not mean numeric parity alone. Women judges and lawyers do not experience substantive equality in Tunisia; and without equality, justice for women remains elusive.
IDLO’s study serves as a stark reminder that gender equality does not mean numeric parity alone
Justice institutions show the same marked discrepancies across rank and geographical distribution that pervade other sectors in Tunisia and elsewhere. Women face barriers that prevent them from reaching certain positions; persisting social norms and expectations arising from gender roles continue to limit their ability to take on leadership roles that entail unpredictable obligations, irregular hours or mobility.
IDLO’s research findings in Tunisia point to several policy areas that can be explored to advance gender equality in the justice sector. These include:
Developing a system to collect and track relevant data on women’s professional participation;
Creating gender-sensitive policies when engaging in capacity-building programs;
Delivering training programs on international human rights, gender issues and gender-based violence laws to male and female judges and lawyers;
Strengthening mentorship programs, networking and continuous training for women justice professionals and law students;
Developing and supporting family-tailored programs for lawyers and magistrates;
Strengthening legal aid programs on gender-based violence and connecting clients with women lawyers and legal aid providers, especially in rural areas.
Notably, the competitive nature of private practice in law provides more opportunities for discrimination than the public sector. While the reform of Tunisia’s judiciary has emphasized anti-discrimination efforts in hiring practices, inequality of opportunity and status are much more prevalent in the private sector.
In rural and remote areas of Tunisia, female lawyers and judges are scarce, not least due to security concerns. This, in turn, means that it can be difficult for marginalized women in areas such as the desert regions of the South to find legal representation and fair justice outcomes in cases of gender-based violence and discrimination.
IDLO believes that improving women’s ability to work in the justice sector is essential – not only to give women the same democratic freedoms and opportunities in the workplace as men, but also to improve the legitimacy and credibility of justice institutions and ensure that women’s gender-specific interests are advanced.
In line with IDLO’s Gender Pledge, we are committed to providing a clearer picture of the obstacles to women professionals’ full participation in the justice sector and the opportunities that need to be explored within the local context to achieve meaningful change.
Only through enhanced awareness can national governments and the international community make progress toward strengthening gender equality, building diverse and inclusive justice institutions, and realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
IDLO's report is the most thorough investigation of women’s professional participation in Tunisia’s justice sector to date. It was developed in collaboration with the Center of Arab Women for Training and Research (CAWTAR) and follows similar research that IDLO carried out in Afghanistan. Tunisia has been a Member Party of IDLO since 1998.
[Top image credit: Tunis Tribune. All icons from the Noun Project: data by Christian Baptist; policy by dDara; training by Chaowalit Koetchuea; networking by mucra; family by Adrien Coquet; legal support by Max Hancock]