The preparation of this policy breif has been a collaborative effort involving professionals from Houloul consulting and support, under the coordination of Najwa Bouraoui, Houda Mazhoud and Arij Ferjani from APEDDUB and Fraj chemak from INRAT. This policy brief was funded by the SSN team as part of the international project Reseauclima. The coordinating authors thank the following expert from Houloul for their valuable effort. They also acknowledge the SSN team for their effective cooperation and support to achieve this work.


Today, climate change stands out as the most pressing concern, exerting a significant impact on natural resources and weather patterns. Addressing this challenge requires a collaborative effort to steer behavior towards adaptation and resilience, alleviating extremes and offering crucial protection to the most vulnerable social groups, with a focus on rural women. Climate change transcends its environmental dimensions. It gives rise to substantial social and economic consequences, exacerbating gender inequalities and underscoring the importance of social justice. . Hence, it is crucial  to illuminate the effects of climate change on the rural women in this area, specifically by delving into the real-life experiences of women in the Ouled Omor region, where there is a notable lack of access to clean drinking water

Water Resources in Tunisian Rural Areas: A Feminist Approach to Challenges

The challenges of rural areas are clearly highlighted in the face of water scarcity resulting from climate change. Water scarcity poses additional difficulties for rural women, who bear the burdens of household responsibilities and other tasks outside the home. The shortage of water has notably negative effects on their lives.

The specter of water resource loss looms over Tunisian rural areas. 

Several factors have contributed to the plight of rural Tunisia, characterized by poverty, marginalization, and disparity, widening the gap between it and urban centers. However, the issue of water crisis alone stands out as the deepest and most burdensome within the social fabric of rural communities.

The state of water resources in Tunisian rural areas can be described as a structural crisis influenced by the country’s climatic conditions, ranging from semi-arid to arid. The country receives approximately 36 billion cubic meters of rainfall annually. However, the manageable and controllable quantity does not exceed 2.7 billion cubic meters of surface water and around 2.1 billion cubic meters of groundwater, with a total average of 4.8 billion cubic meters[1]. These resources are not new to Tunisia, as the inhabitants of this geographic region have been trying to adapt to its needs for ages. However, what the rural population in Tunisia is not accustomed to is the government’s handling of water resources, which has fallen short of meeting their demands, marked by indifference, belittlement, and the absence of effective national plans and strategies to address water resource shortages.

Approximately 29.786% of the total population of Tunisia resides in rural areas[2], and they face significant challenges due to the deterioration of water services. This scene is the most vivid and recurring for every visitor to the Tunisian countryside. This description was also included in the concluding statement of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human right to water during his visit to Tunisia on July 18, 2022. The rapporteur acknowledged that 650,000 people do not have access to water in their homes, mostly in rural areas. Additionally, about 300,000 people lack any public water source and rely on untreated springs and wells[3].

These figures depict the reality of the Tunisian countryside and the unity of the water crisis it is going through. This inevitably prompts us to question the reality of the implementation of social justice, especially concerning the institutional framework responsible for water distribution. The institutional differentiation between urban and rural areas has significantly contributed to the worsening of water services in rural areas. The supply rate for rural areas through the National Company for the Exploitation and Distribution of Water is only 52.7%, equivalent to approximately 1.9 million residents. Meanwhile, the rest of the population, around 1.5 million people, relies on water consortia for their water supply.

Furthermore, being considered a provider of drinking water in rural areas means that the distance between a citizen’s residence and the nearest treated water point is less than 500 meters[4]. However, when applying this rule, it is evident that most rural residents lack access to prepared water points since the state abandoned public faucet systems years ago. Additionally, the problems are exacerbated in rural areas with water consortia due to the high level of indebtedness, estimated at around 16 million dinars in 2019. There are approximately 1234 active water consortia, the majority of which fail to meet legal conditions or financial obligations towards their beneficiaries[5]. The challenges faced by rural inhabitants are further multiplied when linked to climate change and its impact on the socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Mission of Water Fetching Burdened by Climate Change

In rural environments, women serve as the lifeblood and backbone for all domestic and external tasks. Anyone familiar with rural settings confirms this approach. In contrast, rural women are the most vulnerable to harm, representing the weakest link at various social and economic levels. Moreover, they are constrained by a male-dominated culture fueled by multiple factors. To illustrate, let’s consider some statistics related to rural women. Approximately 10.3% of female workers in rural areas fall victim to work-related accidents, with 21.4% exposed to occupational hazards. Furthermore, 62.2% work in challenging conditions, and 18% work in extremely difficult circumstances[6]. These statistics highlight the challenging situation within Tunisian rural areas. So, what will be the situation of rural women in the face of climate change? First, we will explore the concept of climate change to assess its impact on these women.

The United Nations defines climate change as long-term shifts in temperature and weather patterns, often accompanied by violent tendencies. In the context of North African countries, particularly Tunisia, reduced precipitation directly impacts water resources, affecting individual access[7]. Climate change also disproportionately affects those in vulnerable situations due to limited protection mechanisms. Rural women, directly involved in water resource management, bear the brunt of environmental shocks. They frequently witness the consequences, such as the depletion of wells and springs, and endure the hardship of searching for new water sources, often located far from their homes. This is exemplified by the struggles of women in the Ouled Omar region, as highlighted during the visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur to Tunisia.

The impact of climate change extends beyond the quest for water. It has deeper implications, leading to increased psychological and physical violence. Women face various forms of violence and sexual harassment during their search for water. The behavioral patterns within rural areas compel women to discontinue education and focus on household chores. As climate change intensifies and water resources diminish, the suffering of rural women escalates. Feminist organizations have condemned these practices, emphasizing the need to recognize the contributions of women and girls as catalysts for climate solutions.

On the International Women’s Day of March 8, 2022, feminist organizations issued a press release titled “On International Women’s Day, Celebrating the Contribution of Women and Girls as Multipliers of Climate Solutions.” The release emphasized that women are more vulnerable to climate impacts than men, given their majority representation among the world’s poor and greater dependence on climate-threatened natural resources[8]. This reality is reflected as a model within rural Tunisia, where women in the Ouled Omar region serve as a poignant example of the aforementioned struggles.

Reflections of Climate Change on Rural Women

While theoretical discussions about the impacts of climate change on rural women can be extensive, examining real-life cases adds more legitimacy to predictions of risks and challenges. Therefore, it is essential to delve into the situation of women in the Ouled Omar region and highlight the significant effects of climate change.

Women of the Ouled Omar Region Facing the Reality of Thirst

Rural areas in Tunisia endure a challenging living situation influenced by various economic, social, and cultural factors. However, the difficulties intensified in the Ouled Omar region, part of the Bni Hazem delegation in the Maktar district of the Siliana governorate, due to the absence of potable water. In this rural area, approximately 22 families, totaling around 100 inhabitants, reside about 7 kilometers away from the city center. The primary challenges in this area stem from the complete lack of water services and the absence of any prepared water source, whether a natural spring that has been gradually drying up for years or other alternatives.

This situation forces the women of the Ouled Omar region to travel long distances to reach another water source, which is essentially a hole dug adjacent to the previous water spring. Local authorities excavated this hole without equipping it, leaving the women of Ouled Omar with the choice of enduring hardships and covering long distances for a minimal quantity of non-potable water or facing the option of dying of thirst. One woman vividly describes the harshness of their daily struggles, especially during the winter, stating, “The water we drink is half water and half dirt.”[9]

All the struggles that the women of Ouled Omar endure for the sake of sharing 10 liters of water among themselves highlight the dire situation they face. Moreover, these women cannot travel beyond the limits of that dug hole due to the absence of transportation means and the rugged, unpaved roads. This further enhances the women’s sense of isolation from all aspects of life and the feeling of social neglect.

In contrast to this situation, local and regional authorities seem to respond to the demands of the Ouled Omar region with promises and procrastination. This leaves its women to combat the impacts of climate extremes, emphasizing that women take the lead in advocating for environmental issues. They are more actively engaged in confronting climate change, considering it a priority. They are willing to fight with even more determination than men, underscoring the pivotal role women play in addressing climate change, a cause that holds top priority for them.

Climate migration is becoming the primary choice for the women of the Ouled Omar region. 

The term “climate migration” resonates strongly in the conversations of the women from the Ouled Omar region, as there seems to be no reason to stay in this village anymore. This sentiment arises from the understanding that water has been and continues to be crucial for human settlement, serving as the link that strengthens a person’s connection to the geographic area they grew up in. When water is scarce or cut off, all the elements of stability are disrupted, and thoughts of leaving and moving elsewhere become a constant concern. This is how the women of the Ouled Omar region describe the reasons for contemplating migration.

Undoubtedly, whether internal or external, migration is one of the most serious consequences of climate change, especially when it comes to women and children. Climate migration is part of the global context and is a matter of particular concern in developing countries, which are often ill-equipped to cope with this phenomenon. Since 2007, the International Organization for Migration has defined climate migration as individuals or groups choosing or being forced due to climate change to leave their usual environment for another, either internally or externally, due to sudden or gradual permanent or temporary changes in climate[10]. Several international reports have added that climate change is a growing factor in migration, expected to force around 216 million people to migrate by 2050, with approximately 19 million migrants in the North African region. These projections are beginning to take shape within the rural areas of Tunisia, driven by water scarcity, particularly in the Ouled Omar region, which serves as a negative climate impact model. This has led the International Monetary Fund to categorize Tunisia as a country threatened by internal migration[11].

In the face of this situation, the question remains about the extent of the intervention of state structures to mitigate this phenomenon and work on its governance. Despite the long-standing use of the term climate migration, it was not present in the minds of state officials. Their justifications for migration are summarized in economic and social reasons, and they consider rural-to-urban migration to be limited to classic reasons such as poverty and marginalization. Moreover, they have not yet fully grasped the magnitude of the risks and the potential impacts of climate migration.

Rural women’s approach to climate change outside State considerations

The extremes of climate change heavily impact all social groups, particularly rural women, and the presence of state structures in this equation must be decisive. The state should recognize that concerted efforts and integrating women into plans are the optimal solution.

Short-term plans ignore gender

The issue of water scarcity in Tunisia is not a recent phenomenon, especially in rural areas. Since the early 1970s, the state has adopted a policy of harnessing water resources to meet the needs of various economic and agricultural sectors. However, most of these policies were economically driven, focusing solely on water quantities and neglecting social considerations. The initial stages of state plans were marked by the construction of dams, followed by the Fifth Plan for Economic and Social Development (1977-1981), leading to the Ten-Year Plan for Water Resources Development (1990-2000) and the Second Plan (2002-2011). All of these plans were dominated by technical aspects, and the state sought to control water quantities without taking into account the stakeholders and users of water resources, especially rural women directly connected to these services. Despite Tunisia being a pioneer in signing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1979[12], which obliges parties to take necessary measures to eliminate gender stereotypes in both private and public domains, this commitment did not extend to the water system. Gender considerations remained outside the scope of this convention from the perspective of Tunisian policies. The role of women was limited to participating in national forums advocating for gender equality.

And so, Tunisian women continued to endure the challenges of water services, and this policy persisted when the state recognized the danger of the extremes of climate change. In recent years, some state-affiliated institutions have initiated the completion of certain plans and studies. The most significant among them were the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources, and Fisheries and the National Institute of Meteorology. The latter produced approximately 14 regional climate models[13], none of which adopted a gender approach. Similarly, Tunisia’s Water Strategy for 2050, currently under development, does not explicitly address the rights of women, especially rural women, in facing climate change or provide specific protection for them. The legislative framework regulating water resources has also failed to ensure any protection, whether in the Water Code of 1975 or in the various proposed laws currently in progress.

The absence of effective frameworks for gender integration in the context of climate change 

Like the exclusion of women from most water system schemes and strategies despite their area of influence in the water service process and in the face of climate change, the absence of effective frameworks and structures for women’s integration is an obstacle to addressing climate change. Ensuring protection for women against the negative impacts of climate change cannot be guaranteed without a framework supervised by the state. The reason is that the effects of climate change extend, exacerbating physical, psychological, and economic violence. Societies may attempt to adapt to climate disasters through violent practices against women, leading to many girls falling behind or not attending school regularly, further widening the gender gap, especially in rural areas. Sociology and environmental science argue that climate change disproportionately affects the most vulnerable social groups, with women at the forefront. It is necessary to assess the cost of mitigating climate impacts on gender and give extreme attention to combating the damages women may face in the face of climate extremes. There is a need to work more on inclusivity and gender equality through the genuine integration of women and their protection within the frameworks and structures dealing with climate change. This aligns with the provisions of Article 7 of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, emphasizing that “adaptation measures should follow a gender-responsive and participatory approach and be fully transparent.”[14]


Based on the reality of climate change and its specific impact on women, particularly reflecting the struggles of women in the Ouled Omar region, we will shed light on some recommendations specific to the Ouled Omar region and others that concern rural women in the face of climate change in general.

For the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources, and Fisheries and the National Company for the Exploitation and Distribution of Water:

  • Act effectively to solve the problem of the shortage of drinking water in the Ouled Omar region by providing water tanks and ensuring effective monitoring to maintain their purity.
  • Expedite the implementation of a project to connect the Ouled Omar region to improve living conditions and alleviate the suffering of women within it.
  • Consider addressing geographical isolation by improving and preparing the rural road to facilitate access to the city.

To the executive authority, members of the People’s Representatives Council, and the Minister of Agriculture:

  • Enhance the participation of rural women in developing strategies to combat climate change and ensure their effective representation.
  • Establish a special fund to protect women who are victims of climate change, providing necessary support.
  • Develop a strategic plan to mitigate the effects of migration resulting from climate change.
  • Promote protective legislation for rural women, integrating the concept of gender equality into all decisions and laws related to climate change.

These recommendations include effective measures based on the local reality and aim to improve the living conditions of rural women and address the challenges of climate change. Encouragement is given for interaction with relevant stakeholders to ensure comprehensive implementation of these recommendations.

[1] “Abdul Karim Dawood, Fifty Years of Water Resource Management Policies in Tunisia: From Supply Management to Territorial Equity, Governance Magazine, Issue 3, September 2021″[2] “World Bank data”, [3]”Pedro Arrojo-Agudo – Statement at the end of the mission of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation”,[4] “Jamel Abidi, Tunisia: National Solidarity to Ensure Access to Safe Drinking Water in Rural Areas”, [5] “Report of the Court of Auditors, February 21, 2021”,[6] “Faten Mabrouk, Rural Women in Tunisia: Informal Work and the Feminization Dilemma”,[7] “United Nations Organization, What is Climate Change?”, [8] “Press Release: On International Women’s Day, we celebrate the contribution of women and girls as Multipliers of Climate Solutions on March 8, 2022.”[9]  Statement of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights on August 23, 2023,العربية-بيان-في-2023-أهالي-أولاد-عمر- [10]”Climate Change”,[11] Imen Al-Hamdi, Tunisia: Internal Migration due to Climate Reasons, [12] “Abdul Karim Dawood, Fifty Years of Water Resource Management Policies in Tunisia: From Supply Management to Territorial Equity, Governance Magazine, Issue 3, September 2021″[13] Climate Change, National Institute of Meteorology, [14] “Climate Change and the Suffering of Women: Reality and Causes.” 

Le contributeur


researcher in private law at the Law School of Sfax, in charge of legal affairs for the Nomad 08 association, also occupying the post of project assistant supporting the citizen water code within the Tunisian Water Observatory.

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