On 26 July 2017, Tunisia’s parliament approved a landmark bill seeking to eliminate all forms of violence against women. The passage of the bill, which is set to enter force in 2018, represents the first national legislation dealing with violence against women based on a human rights approach.
The law is groundbreaking not only for its shift in framing the status of women as survivors rather than victims, but also because it focuses on prevention and contains broad-sweeping provisions covering the many types of gender-based violence ranging from psychological abuse to economic discrimination.
Tunisia is widely considered a progressive leader and champion of women’s rights in the region, and its active civil society has long advocated for the advancement of gender equality in the country.
However, women continue to experience high levels of violence and discrimination. A 2010 national survey on violence against women illustrated that 47 per cent of women experience some form of violence – physical or otherwise – in their lifetimes. And as of 2016, according to the Ministry of Women, Family and Children (MoWFC), 60 per cent of Tunisian women are victims of domestic violence.
60 per cent of Tunisian women are victims of domestic violence according to a 2016 report by the Ministry of Women, Family and Children.
While the 2014 Tunisian Constitution provides that “the state commits to protect women’s established rights and works to strengthen and develop those rights”, and guarantees that the state will take all measures to eliminate violence against women, actual implementation is another matter.
Furthermore, efforts to provide specific mechanisms for the protection of and support for women survivors of violence, such as shelters and protection centers, have lagged behind. Tunisia has many centers servicing women, but they rely heavily on civil society organizations to remain operational.
Women’s organizations and the MoWFC have cited the limited capacity of shelters to provide effective services as a major challenge to addressing gender-based violence in the country.
Shelters are integral to the protection of women survivors of violence, and beyond that, can aid in the prevention of further violence and support reintegration efforts on both social and economic levels. Protection centers for women provide not only housing, but essential services for well-being and empowerment, including legal assistance, psychological treatment, education and more.
As part of its project to enhance women’s protection against gender-based violence, IDLO, in collaboration with the MoWFC and with the support of the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, organized a workshop from 20 – 22 November in Tunis. The first of its kind in Tunisia, the workshop convened experts to identify good models and practices around women’s shelters in the region and globally to better serve women survivors of violence.
Hailing from a wide range of countries and contexts, expert participants from governments, associations, shelters, and other actors representing the Czech Republic, South Africa, Italy, Afghanistan and Iceland shared comparative examples and discussed the national experience in Tunisia.
One of the main topics covered was good practices relating to the creation and management of women’s protection centers. To remain effective, shelters need to have adequate living standards, security measures, human resources and sound financial management.
Beyond pragmatic matters, participants discussed the importance of establishing networks and partnerships, developing relations with the media and donors, and engaging in policy and advocacy work. In particular, experts agreed that the link between government and civil society is critical to strengthening the response to violence against women.
“Partnerships between civil society - particularly those managing women’s protection centers - and governmental ministries are vital to ensuring legal access and social services for survivors of gender-based violence, especially in the formation and implementation of protocols established within a legal framework for the integration process of survivors,” commented Ms. Tooba Mayel, IDLO’s Senior Gender Justice Advisor in Afghanistan.
"Partnerships between civil society and government ministries are vital to ensuring legal access and social services for survivors of gender-based violence"
Another main objective of the workshop was to further the development of procedural manual to guide the management of existing and new shelters. Participants discussed the strategies, approaches and methodologies necessary to draft strong guidelines, so that shelter protocol not only covers institutional management, but also ways that protection centers can prevent future violence and support efforts to reintegrate women socially and economically.
Original research collected by IDLO was featured at the event and reviewed the social and economic reintegration of women survivors of violence. Data gathered over 10 years from international and national organizations working in Tunisia provided preliminary recommendations and encouraged focused efforts to support women during the exit process.
Looking forward, IDLO will support the MoWFC and civil society in developing a procedure manual for women’s shelters, to be applied to existing shelters and to inform the creation of new ones. With IDLO support, the manual will be drafted, finalized and validated together with the MoWFC by the end of the year.