Cases of violence against women have increased considerably in recent years, including the rate of femicides. There are calls for the law to be revised and for victims to be better protected. The state has a responsibility to protect its citizens; this includes a responsibility to defend women through measures that tackle the root of the problem.
The relationship between men and women is not always cooperative: it can also be confrontational. The situation of women facing conflicts and confrontation cannot be understood, nor can it be predicted how it will evolve, without first accounting for the social reality which is based on need, deprivation, and an authoritarian family structure rooted in male domination, by firstly the father first and secondly the husband.
Historically, feminist movements have been the first to take an interest in and defend the status of women. In 2017, the “Me Too” campaign denounced acts of violence, harassment, and rape of which women are victims. Thanks to social media, the movement had a global impact and influenced public discourse in Tunisia where campaigns such as “Ena zeda” (me too) and “Ena el dhahiya el qadma” (I’m next) occurred.
The Tunisian legislature passed Organic Law no 2017-58 of 11 August 2017 on the elimination of violence against women. However, after the law was passed, figures showed increased rates of violence. This proves that legislation is neither the only problem nor the only solution. This PB aims to address the causes of this phenomenon in order to find effective solutions that will eliminate it.
An ideal law that is ineffectively applied
Law 2017-58 is based on existing national and international laws such as the 1979 United Nations “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women” (CEDAW). Tunisia ratified this convention on 12 July 1985, with reservations, in accordance with the 1985 law. In 2014, these reservations were officially withdrawn.
Therefore, the replacement of Law 1985 with Law 2017-58 was considered a real legislative revolution. The law has retained the measures of the UN CEDAW Declaration, such as the third article which defines the different types of violence. Some consider that this law introduced a new conception of “vulnerability”, considering it as an aggravating circumstance, and thus marking a break with the 1985 law.
Furthermore, the statute of limitations is no longer grounds for stopping prosecutions or abandoning trials and sanctions for historic cases were introduced, to preserve family ties, except for domestic violence cases. In addition, the forced marriage of a victim to their rapist is no longer exempt from punishment as this is decided under family coercion.
Law 2017-58 criminalises previously unpunishable but reprehensive acts. For example, Chapter 224 (2) criminalizes “regular mistreatment of a spouse or a person who is in a state of weakness or under his authority”. This is consistent with Article 23 of the Personal Status (1956) which obliges spouses to live harmoniously and avoid harming or mistreating each other.
The severity of sentencing under Law 2017-58 depends on several factors including taking into account the victim, the circumstances of the incident, and the status of the perpetrator of the crime. Regarding the status of the perpetrator, the law has adopted a broader conception, the “spouse”, previously reduced to “the husband”, can be either the husband or the fiancé (current or former). Consequently, the high rate of domestic violence cannot be explained by a legislative vacuum.
Moreover, the legislator has not neglected the structural organization of the institutions guaranteeing to prevent violence against women. The fourth article is devoted to the organization of procedures, services and competent institutions, from the follow-up stage to the verdict.
The structural aspect cannot justify the increase in the rates of violence against women, at least theoretically. However, this legislative example obscures realities such as the slow pace of procedures due to a lack of funding and logistical support.
Regarding services for women who have been victims of abuse, although reporting cases to the authorities has been made possible, domestic violence complaint reception centers remain closed on public holidays and weekends due to the limited financial and human state resources.
The negligence of judges in domestic violence cases is also a serious state failure, as evidenced by the case of Refka Cherni, a victim of femicide.
Regarding requests for protection, a family court judge examines cases of violence or when the judge is informed about a case of violence by another judicial contractor. In these instances, the judge may decide to force the perpetrator of domestic violence to leave the family home and prevent him from contacting the victim.
The Ministry of Women has also set up guidance and counselling centers in several areas for women victims of violence within the framework of law 58 and the implementation of the national strategy as the “Amen” center. However, these centers may face problems such as disclosing the location of the victim, as this information is supposed to be kept confidential to protect the victims.
During the legal proceedings, support for these victims is provided. During the hearing, the judge gives priority to the victim and ensures that she is present or that she is summoned or notified in case of absence. However, this is not always applicable in practice.
A school program that serves the fight against violence
The school environment plays a major role in the formation of a student’s personality and his/her awareness of his/her environment. This is why Article 7 of Law 2017-58 includes the provision for collaboration between relevant ministries to include the denunciation of violence against women in education reform. Yet no real partnership is taking place and the current teaching approach only aggravates violence against women.
The Tunisian education system permits the physical punishment of students. In June 2021, a teacher and three ministry of education officials were suspended for sexual harassment of female students. Even if prosecution was quicker, the number of cases does not considerably decrease.
Violence, in all its forms, continues to proliferate in the school environment. In addition to the problems mentioned above, some children’s stories perpetuate brutality and virulence. In addition to national problems of patriarchal domination and discrimination against women, the system school is also a source of violence.
Violence and negative images of women in television productions
Before addressing their role in promoting a culture of violence, it is important to recognise the media’s strength and ability to shape public opinion. As Malcolm X said, “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent. And that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses”. Therefore, the media has the power to influence social relationships by encouraging inappropriate behavior instead of promoting good citizenship. This is especially important if television channels have high audience ratings as it accelerates the dissemination of information. Therefore, if this power is misused, it can help to propagate a culture of violence.
Television productions frequently feature stories that justify abuse by portraying the abuser as a hero with whom the audience subconsciously sympathizes.
The media also use violent behavior as a comic device. In most cases, the victim of comedic violence is a woman. In addition, television programs generally portray female characters as weak and submissive beings who accept or even enjoy humiliation. Such content is broadcast daily by private Tunisian channels with significant audience ratings.
The Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HAICA) has been inefficient and negligent regarding the negative portrayals of women as the penalties imposed on programmes and broadcasters are not proportional to the seriousness of the content broadcast.
The Covid-19 pandemic increased violence against women
The Covid 19 pandemic had a huge impact on the economy, health and education. After the first lockdowns were mandated, the rate of violence against women increased significantly from the first week of March 2020, according to international statistics.
Tunisia was no exception to the global trend. Reporting rate was 5 times higher than usual as confirmed by the Ministry for Women. Therefore, a crisis line was set up to help families deal with the pressure and stress of confinement. Also, the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (AFTD) launched its digital campaign “Pandemic increases violence against women” to raise awareness about the seriousness of the problem.
The dispute is based on several principles, the most important of which is that stipulated in article 105 of the Constitution: “Everyone has the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time”. However, these principles have not been so respected since the start of the pandemic, in particular with the closure of the courts to fight against the spread of the virus. This situation has resulted in the accumulation of cases and the postponement of their examination until 2022 or even 2023.
The procedures guaranteed by law against this type of violence must be applied. To do this, part of the budget for the coming years must be allocated to achieve the objective of Article 23, i.e. to create independent structures within the courts. They would intervene urgently to deal with the abused women and take the necessary temporary measures to arrest the aggressor such as monitoring and rehabilitation.
The Ministry of Justice must therefore work to ensure that the offenders fit into the family and social environment. This allows the judge to submit him for a psychological examination and to provide him with the necessary support.
However, these dissuasive laws remain only part of the solution to a culture that has taken root over many years. Education and the media have a role to play in tackling this phenomenon and can intervene more effectively. In addition, it is imperative to activate laws and ensure their implementation, especially in the context of the health crisis.
The inclusion of countering violence against women in the education system
Globally, Iceland is the country with the least violence and is the greatest advocate of gender equality. This is constantly nurtured through national strategies. “The National Plan Against Violence”, which was implemented in 2018 and will end in 2022, aims to maintain the training of education professionals on how to combat violence in the school environment and deal with cases of domestic violence among students.
The educational system can help to develop the culture of non-violence in children and promote gender equality. Singapore has been following the same approach since 2009, striving to implement a preventive policy against violence, in addition to the policy of deterrence adopted by most countries in the world.
The country has focused on communication with young people and children by devoting 45 minutes to the presentation of a collective show (plays, competitions) for primary school pupils. In addition, centers for the promotion of alternatives to violence (Center for Promoting Alternatives to Violence) teach children to solve problems calmly and peacefully.
Ultimately, combatting violence and the marginalization of women begins at school by teaching children to work in groups, by involving them in games based on cooperation rather than competition, and by engaging them in sport and creative activities. Thus, the Ministry of Education must encourage primary school teachers to actively combat violence by organizing fun and recreational activities to educate and supervise the youngest. In addition, it is possible to introduce changes in the school curriculum, especially regarding languages, for example by reserving a chapter on the problem of violence and more particularly that directed against women. The lessons would take a flexible form that could arouse the student’s interest and make them aware of the seriousness of the phenomenon as well as the need to eliminate it. This method empowers the student about the issue of violence.
Mobilizing the media to help stop violence against women
First, all content that promotes negative stereotypes and degrading images of women must be censored. HAICA has intervened on several occasions to sanction the previously mentioned programs and, following a court order, the show “Maa Ala” (“With Ala”) was suspended for two months and content was removed from all social media. It also banned its rebroadcasting. But the HAICA must also penalize these practices by imposing fines that are proportional to the seriousness of the offense or even by suspending the program permanently if necessary.
These abuses can be avoided by creating a specific charter for social television programs, covering animation and content. In addition, setting up a pre-monitoring committee would make it possible to monitor programs before they are broadcast. Finally, all advertising media (newspapers, radio stations, television advertising) must be used to raise awareness of the dangers of domestic violence on women, children and in society. It is also imperative to remove all advertisements that convey a stereotypical image of women and promote gender inequality.
- The Ministries of Education and Higher Education must collaborate with social partners to include programmes about countering violence against women in a revised curriculum. Also, teachers must be trained to make students aware of the severity of the problem and alert them of any abusive practices against women.
- The Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HAICA) must impose tougher penalties for television programs that constantly denigrate women or trivialize acts of violence by imposing fines or permanently suspending their broadcasting.
- The Ministries of Finance and Justice should allocate financial resources for specific measures to address violence against women. These should include the creation of independent structures within the courts which address victims of abuse.
A term referring to the murder of women because of their gender identity.Ahmed Hamdaoui (2000) The status of women and violence within the family in traditional Algerian society. Insaniyat: Algerian review of anthropology and social science. Vol. 10, pp.3-26. https://journals.openedition.org/insaniyat/8047 Hiba Sghaier, “The feminist movement: its history and its ambitions”, October 14, 2018. Manshoor. https://manshoor.com/society/the-history-of-feminism According to National report on the fight against violence against women in Tunisia “the rate of psychological violence rose to 100% against 93% in 2017. As for economic violence, it reached a rate of 47% against 39% during the year in which the law was passed.” https://cutt.ly/xWX3aX5  United Nations (1979) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Full text in English. https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/text/econvention.htm United Nations (1979) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Full text in English. https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/text/econvention.htm”What we know is that it is not for the legislator to define it, the aim being not to leave too broad a discretionary power to the judge to determine the scope of the law, in specifying the technique for defining terms, which is a very effective means” from Merivan Mustapha Rashid (2016) Crime of psychological violence against women, master’s degree in public law https://cutt.ly/5WX8XUBMohamed Afif Jaidi (2017) “Readings of the Basic Law for the Elimination of Violence against Women: A Reading of Criminal Policy”: shorturl.at/bpMN4 “The husband shall treat his wife with benevolence, live with her on good terms, refrain from causing her harm and, in all those matters envisaged by true maintenance, support her and his children from her in accordance with his circumstances and hers”. Sfeir, George. N. (1957). The Tunisian Code of Personal Status (Majallat Al-Ahw Al Al-Shakhsiy Ah). Middle East Journal, 11(3), 309–318. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4322925 80 centers deal exclusively with receiving complaints from victims. See “Vengeance of men’ … Increase in cases of violence against Tunisian women despite ‘revolutionary and progressive’ legislation” Al-Hurra, Dubai, 2021. https://cutt.ly/HWCi3zP Regional colloquium in collaboration with the Court of Appeal of Siliana on “The role of the judiciary in the fight against violence against women”, Higher Institute of Magistracy, February 11, 2020, Siliana, pp.12-13.  “Murder of Refka Cherni: Campaign against domestic violence and feminicide in Tunisia”, Kapitalis, 2021: http://kapitalis.com/tunisie/2021/05/10/meurtre-de-refka-cherni-campagne-contre- domestic-violence-and-feminicides-in-tunisia/ ”We support, we guide, we listen, but it is not for us to provide accommodation. Because we consider accommodation to be social assistance, and it is essentially the role of the state. It is not for associations to host women. “, Statement by Amira Nefzaoui in Hortense Lac,” The listening center, a refuge for women victims of violence “, Inkyfada, 2016: https://inkyfada.com/fr/2016/08/13/tunisie-centre-women-violence-listening  “The President of the Association of Democratic Women Nejma Aouadi stressed the importance of the confidentiality of these centers and their role in the protection of battered women, after a television broadcast revealed the location of one of the centers.”, Nesrine Romdhani,“ The confidentiality of shelters, an essential element in the protection of women victims of violence ”, (Al Arab) April 4, 2020: https://cutt.ly/TWCpDqW “Crime in Sfax: the victim files three complaints against the accused for violence and threats”, 2021: https://cutt.ly/gW94Gbv Shems FM, “Suspension of Teacher and Arrest of Three Officials for Sexual Harassment of Students,” https://cutt.ly/FW94L68Ahmed Zouabi (2019) “Drifts and slippages in children’s stories”,: https://cutt.ly/TW944FC Actress Fatma Bartakis in the rape scene in the soap opera El Foundou, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEBoUg9w7rM HAICA, “Place and representation of women in Tunisian television fictions”, 2019: https://haica.tn/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Place-et-repr%C3%A9sentation-des-femmes-dans -the-fictions-t% C3% A9l% C3% A9visuelles-VF.pdf Show “Oumor Jeddia” (“Serious Things”), Elhiwar ettounsi, broadcast on January 23, 2019: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThePW-ICTH4The soap opera ‘Hkeyet Tounsia’ paints a disparaging image of women as victims of vile abuses. The HAICA, only imposed a shift in the broadcasting schedule”, Yassine Atoui,“ The recommendations of the HAICA concerning the soap opera Hkeyet Tounsia”, Tunisie numérique, 2015: https://cutt.ly/wW97fsj1 Aandi ma nkollek, episode 16, Elhiwar ettounsi, broadcasted on January 31, 2020 : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sk6I4TjNOuQ  Ghdiri Ichraq, “Another aspect of the crisis: 3D violence”, Solidar Tunisie: https://www.solidar-tunisie.org/fr/reflexions/autre-aspect-crise-violence-3dNational action plan against violence 2018-2022. Council of Europe portal :https://www.coe.int/en/web/children/resource-centre/-/asset_publisher/W8vA4RpuvyLr/content/national-action-plan-against-violence-2019-2022-iceland?inheritRedirect=false&fbclid=IwAR0mDmEY1HapGpVKshs-l6eozeZleyCH2lFJ7-UMunRku10CNip7GrYHcRQ The Singapore strategy in managing family violence, Manual on the « integrated management of family violence cases in Singapore 2009.https://cfps.org.sg/publications/the-singapore-family-physician/article/121_pdfDecree-Law No. 2011-116 of November 2, 2011, relating to the freedom of audiovisual communication and establishing an Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HAICA): http://www.inric.tn/fr/decret.pdf