Women’s Organizations in Tunisia: Transforming Feminist Discourse in a Transitioning State


On October 23rd, Tunisians voted in their first democratic election in the state’s history with much at stake after overthrowing the 23 year reigning dictator. As the era of Ben-Ali politics and social policy unraveled, Tunisians began to develop their own sophisticated political discourse as they collaborated to decide the direction of their state. Within this discourse, there emerged a sharp divide within the population, masked by Ben-Ali’s suppressive politics, over the issue of religion. Islamists, organized under Al-Nahda and other independent parties, stood in opposition to secularists who aimed to maintain a separation between religion and state. Tunisians speculated over the impact that an Islamist party could make upon their country, particularly in drafting a constitution. The discourse always turned to the first amendment of the former constitution, which states, “Tunisia is free, independent and sovereign state. Its religion is Islam…”[1] Tunisians, even before casting their votes, made it clear that Islam is an intrinsic part of their self-identity and removing it from the constitution would not be negotiable. As Asma Noura pointed out, even the secularists within the country are not yet ready to concede on the idea of a fully privatized religion.[2] With this point firmly made, political scientists and citizens alike soon ascertained that the area over which Al-Nahda would try to assert its power is women’s rights. [1][1] Tunisian Constitution 1956 [2] Noura, Asma. Lecture. 4 Oct 2011

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