The Development of the Feminist Movement in Tunisia (1920s-2000s): Tunisian Women Start Organizing

Dr. Khedija Arfaoui
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This paper analyzes the development of the feminist movement in Tunisia which went through three phases: the early period from the 1920s to 1956 when the country obtained its independence. Women had very little education, then. Some privileged women formed branches of the prevailing nationalist, socialist or religious movements. They were going to start progressively their feminist quest for equality.

The second period (1956-1970s) saw the promulgation of the Code of Personal Status by Habib Bourguiba; this family code abolished polygamy and repudiation, established judicial divorce and declared women’s equality with men. The National Union of Tunisian Women was also founded by the President. That was the beginning of a State feminism.

The third period started in the 1970s: new generations of women were questioning the weaknesses of the Code of Personal Status. These women were scholars who met to discuss the discriminations they faced as women in spite of their privileged status compared to their sisters in the rest of the Arab world. They were to form autonomous organizations that obtained recognition two years after Zinelabidine Ben Ali took over the Tunisian Presidency in 1989. These organizations are striving to inform women of their rights and of pushing the government to adopt a secular policy, in particular by allowing a woman to inherit the same share as a man.

Keywords: Feminism, State feminism, Code of Personal Status, Equality, Secular, The Autonomous Feminist Movement
Stream: Sexuality, Gender, Families
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Development of the Feminist Movement in Tunisia 1920s-2000s, The

Dr. Khedija Arfaoui

Secretary General, The Higher Institute of Languages in Tunis

I taught English in secondary schools. Then, while working on my research in Washington D.C., I was a teaching assistant in the American Studies Department at George Washington University. At the University level where I worked as an Assistant Professor until my retirement in 2002, at ISLT (Institut Superieur des Langues de Tunis), I taught Women’s Studies, American Studies and Human Rights. I am interested in research, most particularly about women, but also about human rights and peace. An environmentalist at heart, I founded ADPE (Association of Development and of The Protection of the Environment) and was its president during ten years. I am also a feminist and I am the current Secretary General of AFTURD of which I am also a founding member. I attended training courses on Human Rights and on Peace and the Peaceful Resolutions of conflicts. I recently spent six weeks at Lake Forest College in Illinois (U.S.A) as a Fulbright visiting professor, in a special program entitled: “Direct Access to Islam.” I am currently attending several international conferences, in Tunisia, as well as and in the USA and doing research about women in the Arab world and in Tunisia more particularly.

Ref: H06P0610